SO HERE WAS THE REAL TEST FOR ADVANCING SENILITY. Read fifteen titles on the shelves at random. Close your eyes for at least thirty seconds, thinking of a neutral topic. Then open your eyes, look out the French doors and recite back, in order, each title read.
Leaning back in his leather chair, hands clasped over his ample girth, Doctor Gerald Stein looked across the polished surface of his massive walnut desk at the various hardbound volumes lining the floor to ceiling bookshelves across his office. Lips moving slightly, he read the titles that would be his test; the titles that would provide him with yet another example of slipping genius.
Even as he read them, another part of his mind was criticizing the validity of the test. Almost all the works were psychiatric texts that he had read often enough to be near memorized. Indeed, three of the texts had been written by himself. A better test would be numbers selected at random.
But he felt relatively lazy this morning, not inclined to write out the hundred or so cards with numbers on them that would be required to create an appropriate test. This would have to do.
As he finished reading the fifteenth title he heard the distant sound of the doorbell downstairs. He knew it would be Prestman coming for their regular Tuesday lunch. He also knew it would take Prestman a good five minutes to be admitted, escorted up the elegant stairs to the second floor and along the corridor past the patients' rooms to Stein's office. More than enough time to complete the test.
Concentrating on the little balcony outside the French windows now, Stein noticed a new bird's nest in the bare branches of the oak overhanging the rail of the balcony. It was empty. Were the parents still building it, off somewhere getting more twigs? Had they abandoned it? It seemed to be substantially complete.
He heard the distant thump as Hendrix closed the security door downstairs. Prestman would be slowly walking across the thick Persians in the main foyer now, Hendrix a few feet ahead, surreptitiously looking back to make sure Prestman did not fall.
Stein opened the center drawer of his desk and pulled out a pad of paper and the gold pen that he had received along with the honorary degree from the university at Munich. He grimaced as he picked up the pen, remembering the ceremony, the carefully polite speech given by the chancellor of the university in his honor.
Stein had known the chancellor when the chancellor had joined the Nazi Party twenty-five years before the ceremony. "For family reasons," he had explained to Stein in1935. They had been college friends, soccer teammates.Stein's parents were arrested by the Gestapo two years later.
Stein wrote, in order, the titles that he had read. Any hesitation in making the list would be treated by him as forgetting the correct order. Nine titles into the list he bit his lip though his writing but did not falter. After that it actually seemed easier. He finished the list, leaned back in his seat, and stared at it.
"Must be a good morning," he muttered to himself, removing his thick glasses and cleaning them. Some mornings were better than others. He decided to test himself again tomorrow using numbered cards.
Hendrix gave the door his usual discreet knock and, as always, waited five seconds and slowly opened it. Hendrix was in his fifties now, still strongly built, dressedin the white uniform of an orderly, his hair beginning to match his clothing, his black skin without wrinkles. Hendrix's eyes immediately flickered to the list on the desk in front of Stein and his lips tightened.
Stein realized two facts instantly. First, Hendrix knew precisely what Stein had been doing. Second, Stein must be getting obvious in his agony of self-doubt. He'd have to better control himself before others.
Hendrix stood by the door and softly said, "Mr. Prestman to see you, Doctor." For over two decades, at eleven thirty on Tuesdays he had been repeating that precise phrase. And for over two decades Prestman would walk past Hendrix, smiling, sitting in the leather chair in front of Stein's desk.
"Good morning, Doctor. How are things in the world of psychiatry?"
Stein noted Prestman's custom tailored three-piece herring bone, the handcrafted Italian leather attaché' and Prestman's good-natured smile. Stein could never wear clothes properly, even before he became overweight. Prestman, almost as heavy as Stein now was, and even older, seemed elegant, dapper. Stein sighed.
"As well as can be expected, Counselor. And your health does not cause you undue concern?"
Hendrix softly closed the door as Prestman lowered his bulk into the chair. "My health is wonderful, Doctor. Wonderful." He noticed the list on Stein's desk. "Inventorying your library?"
Stein smiled slightly. "Practicing your talents at reading upside down again?"
Prestman leaned forward. "That can come in pretty handy, Doctor. Louis Nizer won a case in that manner."
Stein had heard that story at least twenty times. His smile faded a little as Prestman made it twenty-one. "It was in the forties, a slander case. The defendant was giving an exact quotation on the stand of some horrendous phrase the plaintiff was supposed to have said. Nizer knew it was a complete lie, of course, but complete fabrications are almost impossible to impeach..."
Stein studied his friend's face while the recitation continued. Andrew was happy today, very happy. His eyes shone. Color had returned to his face. He hadn't seemed this healthy since the last operation, the one on his kidney.
"...and that evening his law clerk told him that he had seen a note on opposing counsel's table, a note he had to read upside down, but the words on it were precisely the words used by the defendant in his testimony. The man had written out the quotation ahead of time while sitting at the table. But more importantly, variations on the phrase were written on the same piece of paper, crossed out!"
Prestman leaned back in his chair, beaming. Stein looked at him, still smiling faintly. Prestman hastened to explain, as he had so many times before, "The witness had been trying out variations of the supposed statement, you see. Something he would not have had to do if he were telling the truth, as Nizer immediately understood. With that knowledge he was able to plan a tactic which would..."
Stein instinctively categorized the mental aberration that caused the elderly to repeat old stories constantly, remembering a rather good article he had written on that tendency fifteen years before when he had been in his early sixties.
Any other man Stein would have cut off with one of his famous barbs. But Andrew was one of his few remaining old friends, and a man of remarkably thin skin especially for a lawyer. Stein recalled mentioning Andrew's unusual sensitivity to Phelps, the only other lawyer Stein consented to consider a friend.
Phelps had smiled running his finger along the rim of his wine glass. "Lawyers like Prestman are dinosaurs, Doctor. You know what he is? He's a gentleman. A true gentleman." Phelps chuckled without humor. "There's no place for such men in our courts today. Every time he goes to court he gets his ass kicked. Good God, he still believes whatever opposing counsel says! Doesn't confirm oral representations by a letter sent the next day! Considers opposing counsel as member of the same fraternity ' of law!"
Phelps shook his head. "Not a man who can protect clients in today's world, Doctor. A bad lawyer and a good man."Stein gazed at Prestman and said, "Tell me," at the appropriate moment when Prestman asked, as always, "Do you know how he used that fact to impeach?" Prestman glowed and continued.
Stein had raised his eyebrows archly at Phelps and answered him, "A famous eighteenth century English country lawyer once wrote that a good attorney should allocate to each day of labor the following schedule: three hours to read law, two hours to read philosophy, four hours to study the Bible, and each evening dining with gentlemen to discuss the truths learned during the day. That is a true 'gentleman lawyer'. I do not believe that Mr. Prestman conforms to that prescription, do you?"
Phelps had leaned back in his seat giving Stein one of his ironic looks. "Landed money allows one to afford a little more gentleness than the American middle class can afford, Doctor."
Stein had blinked. "So? You conclude that monetary restraints are the cause of the extinction of the true gentleman lawyer? Rather facile analysis, I believe."
Prestman was winding up now, leaning forward with elbows on the desk, right hand absently fondling Stein's paperweight, a spent shell from a fifty-caliber machine gun. That gun had fired at Stein by mistake at Okinawa. It had torn off the small toe on his left foot while Stein was treating a wounded Japanese infantryman in no-man's land. The American gunner had assumed that "anyone treating a Jap must be a Jap." They had given Stein a medal for the wound. Something called a Purple Heart.
"...so that the defendants agreed to settle the next day. For a significant sum, I might add." He leaned back in his chair, eyes fixed on Stein. "A lawyer is required to know a little about a lot of topics, Doctor. Our cases require that type of broad background. We are the last of the Renaissance men."
Stein regarded him for a long moment, not answering. Once he would have hotly disputed that contention. Andrew half expected him to do so. But since Andrew's last stroke Stein had become cautious in his disputations with him, both because he feared to cause him stress and because Andrew no longer had the wherewithal to successfully debate with Stein.
Stein smiled grimly. A few more years and they'd undoubtedly be equally incapable of intelligent discourse. A few more thousand brain cells dead and Stein and Prestman could argue to their hearts' content.
Prestman was looking at Stein now, waiting for a reaction to his claim for lawyers to be included with the men of the Renaissance. Stein sat up slowly. "If by Renaissance man you include the voracious merchants of Venice, then we may agree. For now, let us agree on a place to dine. French or Italian?"
Prestman clasped his hands on the desk. "Well, my appetite isn't what it used to be, Doctor. Either one is fine with me."
"You are no longer eating sufficiently?"
Prestman was looking out the French doors, avoiding Stein's eyes. "I'm fine. Fine. Where shall we go?"
Stein was silent, studying his friend's features closely, professionally. Steve Wimple was Prestman's physician, he knew. He'd call him later today. Find out if there was anything serious. Somewhere deep inside Stein felt a twinge of acute sorrow. Another friend dying?
It was at Girond's that Prestman told Stein about the case. Stein was noting with relief that Prestman was consuming the veal with relish despite his earlier protestation.
They had just finished their weekly ritual of castigating local politicians when Prestman smiled coyly and said, "Well, at my age it's about time I took on some bigger fish than our local politicos. Time for the big leagues.”
Stein paused in his destruction a squab. “Oh? You previously led me to believe you were alleviating your stress-filled days by increased leisure and decreased commitment to the profession. Is that to be altered?"
Prestman lowered his eyes to his plate, his voice becoming deeper. "Well, some cases require a lot of experience. Require the expertise, the wisdom that only long years at the Bar can attain. This may be one."
"Are you free to discuss it?"
Prestman leaned forward, unconsciously lowering his voice. "Certainly no details, but I can give you the basic issues. We represent some citizens' groups. Quite prominent citizens, I might add."
"Of course. Who else could afford your firm?"
Prestman bristled. "We take our commitment to public interest groups quite seriously, Doctor. I dare say we allocate more time to pro bono work than most medical firms."
Stein's eyelids drooped, his normal expression when hearing what he considered absolute nonsense. "Tell me of the case."
Prestman nestled back in the soft chair, enjoying himself. "Well, as a matter of fact this is a pro bono case. Or close to it. We're trying to save the wetlands at El Chaco Bay. And the mealwort worm. An endangered species."
Stein wrinkled his brow. "El Chaco Bay? That's north of Jenner, is it not?"
"About eighty miles north of the City. The last unspoiled wetlands for a hundred miles. Of tremendous ecological significance, I might add."
"And will add, undoubtedly, in each and every judicial proceeding that is scheduled."
Prestman smiled. "Well, that's my profession, Doctor. I rely on your tolerance to allow me to practice my little speeches." He patted Stein's forearm, then sobered, holding onto the forearm. "But I happen to believe it absolutely. This is an important one, Gerald. And we're taking on the big boys. The oil companies."
Stein blinked. "Oil companies? They wish to drill?"
"Drill. Fill. Develop. They stole the lands eighty years ago and have been biding their time, waiting until land values increase so they can enjoy a profit at taxpayer's expense and to the detriment of the public who..."
Stein held up his hand. "Desist, my friend, cease the torrent. I am neither the judge nor the jury and your eloquence will be wasted on me. Minus your rhetoric, what are the issues?"
Prestman leaned back, chuckling. "You know how to take the wind out of a fellow's sails, don't you? I was just getting warmed up. You don't know what you missed."
"Spare me. I assume it is the perennial issue of jobs versus nature; the need to make money versus the aesthetic taste of those who already have the money to enjoy nature."
"Now who's waxing eloquent?"
Stein raised his eyebrows. "This is eloquence? I thank you."
"Well, the oil companies won't thank me. We're going in for an injunction. Should get it filed tomorrow if word processing stops putting us off. Damned typing pool doesn't even know me anymore. I'll have to talk to Springer about that."
Prestman put his fork down, drumming his fingers on the table absently. "The new managing partner. Young fellow. In his forties. Good man. Damn good lawyer. Must talk to him about those girls."
"The typing girls. They're certainly lazier than they used to be when Reynolds ran the firm. Gossip more than work, I suspect. These new computers make people lazy."
Stein finished his squab and raised the wine glass to his lips. "As I understand the current legalities, you should not refer to them as 'girls,' Counselor. They are women. Even when young, apparently. I am advised that even in the fetal stage of development the current law regards them as women. Fetal women, I presume."
Prestman shrugged, uninterested. "Anyway, when we get it filed, all hell will break loose. And we represent three different citizens' groups; two from the City and one from Santa Rosa. And a national animals' rights organization. For the worm. That's quite a bit of clout."
"Oil companies are also rumored to have much clout."
Prestman grinned mischievously. "Correct. This is a major case. I expect we'll be facing the Castleton firm. They represent AmalCo. And they're good."
"And this is pro bono...for free?"
Prestman looked uncomfortable for the first time. "Yes. Essentially. They say they'll pay costs. You know these groups never seem to have much money."
Stein signaled the waiter to clear. "I am impressed with your firm, Andrew. To challenge the oil companies without a paying client is a remarkable gesture. My compliments."
Prestman colored with pleasure. "Well, thank you, Doctor. I told you we're serious about pro bono work."
"And the firm assigned the case to you? Will you have assistants? Didn't they consider the fact that you are semi-retired? Why should you work if you receive your pension even if you do not work? What remuneration do you receive?"
"I volunteered, Gerald. The youngsters are all busy making money. Don't blame them. They have their careers, their responsibilities. Can't expect them to take on this kind of a case. With Eleanor dead, I have plenty of time."
Prestman blinked rapidly. "No one was even responding to these groups. They'd write us letters, asking for donated time. Springer would shove the letters to the corner of his desk, not even read them. Hell of a thing. There's more to law than making money, you know. It's not just a business."
"Quite. So Springer requested you to donate your valuable and marketable time, yet you receive no additional compensation?"
"Dessert, Doctor? I'll skip it. No appetite now."
Stein selected the napoleon, telling the waiter to bring two forks. He continued to press. "Springer wished you to donate what he, himself, was reluctant to give, namely professional time?"
Prestman sounded defensive. "The kid's busy, Gerald. Works twelve hour days. There every day at seven, stays to eight most nights. Most weekends he's there. Can't expect him to do more. Has a wife and child, you know. The Braintree girl. Married her three years ago." Prestman chewed for a while. "How did we get on this subject, anyhow? Let's change the subject."
Stein felt the stirrings of real concern now. "But tell me, he still had the gall to request you to volunteer your time for such a major commitment?"
"Of course not. He's a gentleman. He didn't have to. I told him I was taking it. I volunteered. He just nodded. I think he was happy to get it off his desk. Can't blame him."
Stein sighed and regarded his friend with tight lips. Prestman studied his hands laid flat on the table. "I don't think he even understands the scope of the task I've undertaken. But he will. We're talking extinction, you know. That's forever. That's a long time."
"You are referring to the extinction of this mollusk? The meal worm?"
"The mealwort worm. This is one of two remaining habitats for this animal. Animals that existed before the dinosaurs."
"Really. What precisely do they do?"
Prestman raised his eyebrows, smiling. "Do? They do what most worms do. Sit about, slither occasionally, procreate and presumably pay taxes like the rest of us. What the hell do you expect them to do?"
Stein did not smile. "I meant, what is its ecological significance?"
Prestman raised his voice. "The same as yours or mine, my good Doctor. None. At least, none that I've noticed. Do you have ecological significance? Do I? The worm exists and that should grant it a God-given right to continue to exist."
"Perhaps I was unclear. I assume that it is incumbent upon you to demonstrate some critical role in the food chain for this animal."
Prestman leaned forward, intense. "Why the hell should we?" He glared at Stein dramatically.
Stein regarded him without expression. Prestman knew that look. "I mean it, Gerald. Why the hell does the god damned worm have to serve a goddamned useful purpose to be allowed to exist in this bloody world? Can't we just let it exist because it's already there?"
Perhaps a smile appeared on Stein's face as he quietly answered, "Ask the lawyers, my friend. They make the laws. The animal may continue to exist in perpetuity as far as the psychiatrists are concerned."
Prestman smiled, leaning back. "This case gets to me, Gerald. I'm looking forward to it."
Stein paused before replying. "Have you discussed the case with your younger associates?"
"It will come up at the next partners meeting. That's in three weeks. I'll ask for some more help then."
Stein watched Prestman eating the napoleon. "You have no assistants now?"
Prestman grinned. "Didn't say that. I know my way around a little better than that. I know how to get personnel even when the other partners are scampering around grabbing every free hand they can get. I grabbed a paralegal and a clerk. Betty Freeman's the paralegal. I don't believe you've met her."
"I do not believe I have been introduced to any person employed by your firm."
"Well, she's top drawer, as far as I'm concerned. Does probate most of the time, but the old girl felt like a little variety and signed right on. Good sport, too."
"And the clerk?"
Prestman sadly looked at the plate. "I seem to have eaten most of your dessert. You shouldn't get me so wound up. I start to eat. Let me order you another."
"The clerk? He is competent?"
"As competent as any of these kids, nowadays. I think he smokes marijuana. I think I smell it on him in the mornings." He pondered a moment, then asked, "That doesn't permanently affect the brain does it? I mean, medically? I don't want him messing up this case. We'll be facing top competition."
Stein paused before answering. "I do not think a drug induced torpor will be your problem, Counselor. Are any other attorneys assisting you?"
"I'll ask for some kid at the next meeting. No need now, really. I can handle the pleadings and the first hearing or two. Old hat to me."
Stein sighed and folded his hands on his belly. How to begin? He decided to use a professional technique that had often worked: transference. "I am concerned, Counselor, and require your advice."
Prestman looked up, flattered. "Certainly, Gerald. You name it. We've known each other a long time."
"Twenty-seven years, to be precise. My concern stems from my increasing awareness of my imminent mental decay. It is time, I suspect, to withdraw from much of my professional activity. To leave certain classes of treatment to younger colleagues."
Prestman's eyes widened. "Don't do it, Doctor. Don't! It's a complete myth that the elderly lose mental agility. It's all in your state of mind. And to retire is to accelerate the process. If you keep active, you keep young."
Stein's eyelids drooped and he shook his head slightly. "That assertion is without merit, Counselor. The brain is a physical phenomenon, not a spiritual essence. Your muscles decay, your organs decay. So does your brain."
"That may be true of the brain. It is not true of the mind!"
"You utilize the word 'mind' as the religious utilize the word 'soul.' Neither has validity within the scope of our present discussion."
"You're as bright as you ever were."
Stein's face darkened. "That is utter nonsense, Andrew. My mental acumen is a shadow of its former self. I think slower, develop less insight, obtain fewer results. My brain is dying and doing so with increasing velocity." He locked his eyes on Prestman's. "That is true for any person of our age. Any person."
Prestman opened his mouth to argue, then stopped, staring at Stein. His jaw tightened. Slowly, very slowly, he leaned back in his seat. Then, quietly, "I see. I see."
He looked down at his hands clasped on the table in front of him. "I would not have expected such... indirectness from you. Not with me."
Stein blinked. "What I imply with you is equally true of myself. We both face the same dilemma."
Prestman would not look up, would not meet Stein's eyes. "Oh, there's a difference, Gerald. You could lose half your brain and still be twice as smart as the average man." He smiled without humor. "I can't afford the wastage, right? I lose just a little of the old wit, and it's out to pasture for the old war horse."
Stein reached across the table, but Prestman moved his hands back. Stein sighed. "I do not infer that the coming catastrophe we each face is not tragic in its implications. It is. I dwell on it constantly. I emphasize to you that your solution of increased professional activity does not avoid the catastrophe but publicizes it and is a possible source of humiliation."
Prestman flushed. "I see. I'm about to humiliate myself? I'm a complete fool, incapable of directing the course of this case?"
To his own surprise, Stein felt himself beginning to lose his temper. "Your emotional reaction is merely an attempt to evade the validity of my comments. Do you seriously contend that your abilities have not deteriorated over the past decade?"
Prestman sat very straight in his chair. "My abilities have not deteriorated in the least. Indeed, every day spent at the
practice increases your store of knowledge, increases our ability to handle the next matter."
Stein's voice was hard. "You postulate the thesis that continued activity must increase ability in that activity. That is simply untrue. The learning curve', which is the term used to designate such experience, soon levels off and it is absurd to assume that after fifty years of practice you are still on the ascendant portion of the curve. You may have the skill and wherewithal to negotiate a contract or draft a Will. You do not have the ability to engage in verbal jousting with young and agile minds. That is true despite long experience."
Prestman's face became beet red, his voice slurred a little. "Law is not merely a skill, it is an art. And art is never fully mastered. You cannot be expected to understand the intricacies of a case, of my practice..."
"Nor do I wish to. I am simply emphasizing to you that your original decision to semi-retire was a wise one and should not be discarded lightly. Indeed, if you were in your forties I would counsel caution before undertaking such a task as challenging the oil combines on a pro bono basis."
"When I was forty I would not have had the time..."
"Because you were in demand in the market due to your abilities. Don't you understand? You have time now precisely because your diminished talents are no longer in demand."
Prestman jerked back, blanching. Stein frowned, furious at his own lack of control. He concentrated on calming down, fixing his eyes on the wall behind Prestman's head. The two old men sat in silence, neither looking at the other. Several minutes passed.
At last Prestman spoke, his voice carefully polite. "Would you like me to order you another napoleon? They were quite good." He was staring at the empty dessert plate.
Stein sighed deeply. "Andrew, my outburst was unprofessional and counterproductive except in one sense and one sense only." Prestman did not look up. "It demonstrates to you and to myself my own diminishing abilities. My own decay."
Andrew looked up then. "Nonsense. You are brilliant. You are a beacon to the rest of us..."
"If that is true, then my conduct must cause you even greater concern. Your beacon is fluttering." Stein felt short of breath.
Prestman leaned across the table, grasping Stein's wrist. "Don't give up on yourself so quickly, Doctor. Don't.. There's a tendency...a proclivity...to sense slowing down in everything, to see it everywhere. Once you doubt yourself, once you lose confidence, you see a thousand proofs of deterioration in all you do. Believe me, you have not lost any ability of significance."
Stein did not immediately answer. He swallowed hard. "We are both of us on the verge of becoming ridiculous, Andrew. We must face that and withdraw before we are made laughing stock..."
Prestman interrupted, "Enough of this. Enough. Let's change the subject."
Stein hesitated. He didn't want to stop, he wanted this process completed. With difficulty, he controlled himself. "As you wish."
Prestman ordered more coffee, his voice carefully neutral, studying the dessert menu again though they had already ordered. At last he dropped the menu and leaned back in his chair. The old men looked at each other.
"I've told you that story about Nizer before, haven't I?"
Stein shrugged. "Many times."
"That's it. That's why you think I'm losing it. But that doesn't mean anything. I was repeating myself thirty years ago."
"It was not merely that...."
I know I bore people. Tell the same stories. Hell, Gerald, when you get to be our age, all we've got is old stories. We aren't doing much new to talk about, are we?"
"As a matter of fact, that characteristic of the elderly is independent of lack of new experiences."
"There you go again, characterizing me, making me one of your elderly studies. Well, I'm not." He leaned forward on the table, fists clenched.
"That's right, that's my name. I'm Andrew Peabody Prestman, and I was practicing law when you hadn't written your first book on psychiatry. I'm not some 'Mr. X' from one of your case studies, some neurotic housewife moaning to her confessor-shrink."
Stein said nothing, just observed. Prestman saw that and his voice became sharp. "I'm sorry I bored you. Sorry to hell. All you had to do was tell me to stop. Why did you just sit and listen? Humoring me?"
Stein returned his attention to the empty plate. Another few moments of silence. At last Prestman spoke, his voice deliberately light. "Well, whatever happens will happen. I appreciate your...advice. I will certainly take it seriously." Stein did not reply.
Prestman cleared his throat, looking across the restarant towards the curtained windows. After a moment he returned his gaze to Stein who was sitting in silence. "Anyway, I'm more interested in your grand-nephew. He's still coming out next month?"
Stein paused before answering, clearly undecided as to whether to let the subject drop. When he did speak, his voice was grudging. "Yes. I will bear my cross commencing next month. I misadvised you at our last luncheon. He is ten years old, not fifteen."
"Quite a difference."
"Five years, to be precise."
Prestman smiled, relaxing now. "More than five years. Galaxies apart. You are ignorant of children, my friend. You should have married." Stein thought of Sarah and said nothing, his face becoming grimmer. Prestman saw that and grinned. "A fifteen-year-old would have driven you insane. You'd end up in one of those padded cells you keep."
"We keep no padded cells," Stein answered petulantly.
Prestman's smile broadened. "Of course not, Gerald. I was only joking. What will you do with the child? He's here for three months?"
"Two months. I do not know what to do with him. Perhaps my senility will advance by then to the point where we will be appropriate playmates."
Prestman studied his friend with somber fondness. His voice was soft when he spoke. "My friend, you are fixated on that topic, you know."
"I do know. I am on the brink of a precipice knowing full well I must fall and mourning the inevitable catastrophe. Undoubtedly I will be happier once I strike the bottom."
Embarrassed, Prestman studied his own hands clasped on the table. He could think of no ready reply. He signaled for the bill. It was his turn to pay and Stein watched him in silence.
JOYCE CROWE DITHERED, UNDECIDED TO STAND TO ARGUE OR leave the courtroom before the humiliation of Prestman was complete. Her own motion had been granted, she had an appointment back at the office in half an hour, and Prestman's case was none of her business. The firm had an unwritten but clearly understood rule that attorneys within the firm were not to interfere with each other's cases.
But Prestman was being massacred. Indeed, the way he was leaning on the podium placed before the Law and Motion Bench, she suspected that he remained on his feet only by holding on to the podium. Worse, he was embarrassing the firm.
She had been surprised to see him arguing a motion on the calendar immediately after her. Indeed, she had had no idea that he was handling any cases for the firm at all. In light of what was happening, he clearly shouldn't be.
Could she leave the courtroom while he was desperately in need of some support? She vacillated, sitting in the last row of the courtroom, watching William Von Hedern destroy Prestman with exquisite skill.
Von Hedern was objecting, one hand placed elegantly in his suit pants pocket, the other raised in restrained but effective eloquence. "Certainly Mr. Prestman has forgotten that the Dreyer case overruled the cases upon which he relies only two months ago. The Collins case can no longer be relied upon in support of the proposition that his clients may see the government's confidential studies. I call the court's attention to the dictum on the penultimate page of that holding specifically applying the ruling to environmental studies undertaken by the Federal government. Put simply, the higher courts will not allow the government to produce said reports to satisfy the curiosity of any self-appointed citizens' group."
Prestman interrupted, voice shaky with indignation. "We are not a self-appointed group, Your Honor. We have as members leading citizens of the community..."
"My learned opponent misses my point," interjected Von Hedern, sounding sincerely pained to have to correct the old man. "Whether it is a committee of society's best or a congregation of mother superiors, the report is sacrosanct. Mr. Prestman's motion must be denied. Mr. Prestman cannot cite applicable authority to the contrary, can he?" He gracefully turned to Prestman, his handsome face carefully composed to represent polite curiosity.
Prestman would not meet his eyes, rapidly turning the papers laid on the podium in front of him, his hands visibly trembling. Prestman cleared his throat. "The case of Hedenson, 34 Cal. Report 654 allowed government studies ' on freeway safety to be subject to discovery in instances...."
The Court cut him off, voice sharp. "Dreyer overruled that case as well, Counsel. Do you have authority not overruled by Dreyer?"
Prestman pawed through his papers, sweating now, keeping his eyes glued to the podium covered by an increasingly untidy pile of papers. The courtroom was completely silent except for the shuffling of his papers and his labored breathing. Von Hedern studied Prestman for a moment, raised his eyebrows at the judge, then sat down and crossed his legs, both hands in his pockets.
Judge Bledsoe glared at Prestman who had stopped turning the pages and was leaning far over the podium, eyes close to the papers which were quivering in his shaking hands.
At last Prestman straightened, blinking rapidly. "We feel that the Dreyer case is inapplicable to the instant situation, Your Honor."
Judge Bledsoe blinked. "Really, Counsel? Since you failed to even note the existence of that case in your moving papers, I am somewhat surprised. Tell me, why should this court ignore the clear holding of the California Supreme Court, rendered only sixty days ago?" His voice was not so much sarcastic as contemptuous.
"Dreyer was not addressing possible endangered species."
"Quite. So what?"
Prestman licked his lips, hesitated, then plunged on. "Extinction is forever, Your Honor." The judge's stony expression did not alter.
In the back of the court room Joyce Crowe stood up and opened her mouth, hesitated, then closed it. She sat again.
Prestman looked at the papers in his hand and softly added, "We are not speaking of only freeways, Your Honor, but of living things. The court...must take that into account. Dreyer did not apply...its principles to endangered species, we feel, and should not...apply here at all."
The court began reading the documents before it on the bench. Von Hedern was pretending to read his own papers, avoiding having to look at Prestman who was holding onto the podium with both hands now, hands trembling so badly that the podium vibrated slightly.
At last Judge Bledsoe glanced at Prestman. For a brief moment his face softened as he noted Prestman's desperate condition. His eyes scanned the crowded courtroom, filled with attorneys waiting to argue their cases. Law and Motion, the court allocated solely to ruling on points of law, the court which never hears trials but each morning is filled with counsel, pleading the law before an audience of other attorneys for this was not the court in which to appear a fool. The audience was your peers, the judge the most knowledgeable and brutal, the results the most obvious.
Bledsoe had no time to treat the old man gently and not much inclination. He had a noon meeting with Judge Holton on scheduling of the criminal calendar and nineteen more cases that would have to be ruled on before then. The old man should never have come out of retirement. Bledsoe was about to deny his motion from the bench when he noted that Prestman was slipping a small pill into his mouth, turned slightly away from the bench and opposing counsel so that they would not see.
Bledsoe's lips tightened. The old man was only a decade and a half ahead of him. Would he be like that in five thousand more days? Bledsoe decided to save Prestman some embarrassment. "I will take the matter under submission, counsel. You will receive the ruling in Monday's mail. Next case, Bailiff."
Von Hedern rose to his feet, collecting the papers spread before him on his podium. Prestman continued to lean on his own podium, staring at the papers before him, breathing heavily. Von Hedern studied him for a moment, quickly stuffed his own papers into his briefcase, then moved over to Prestman's side of the table and began to put Prestman's papers away for him. Prestman did not notice, still leaning on the papers scattered on his podium. Behind them, the fifty or so attorneys watched in silence. Judge Bledsoe carefully read the papers before him, not looking up.
Prestman finally pushed himself fully erect at the podium, straightened his shoulders, and shuffled to the right side of the table, the side of the moving party. With dignity, not meeting his eyes, he took his briefcase from Von Hedern and they slowly walked to the rear of the courtroom, Prestman leading the way, eyes fixed on the door at the rear of the courtroom, Von Hedern nodding to the various other counsel who silently greeted him.
In the hallway Von Hedern took Prestman's arm and led him to a bench across the empty hallway from the ornate oak doors of the courtroom.
"Are you feeling better, Mr. Prestman?" Prestman sat down heavily, his briefcase in his lap. He studied the door to the courtroom across the hall. He did not look at Von Hedern who stood before him. "Yes, I’m quite well. Thank you."
"Would you like a ride back to the office?"
"No. No, thank you. I think I'll skip the afternoon." Von Hedem hesitated. "Mr. Prestman, I could drop you off at home. You live in the city?"
"I'll take him home," snapped Joyce. Von Hedem turned and saw her standing behind him. She met his eyes steadily. He smiled slightly.
"I enjoyed your argument, Ms. Crowe. I once had to argue a case concerning zoning restrictions very similar to yours."
"Did you?" she briskly replied. She moved between Von Hedern and Prestman. "Mr. Prestman, do you remember me? Joyce Crowe."
Prestman struggled to his feet. "Of course. I voted for your admittance as a partner. Four years ago."
She took his arm, helping him up. "Eight years ago, Mr. Prestman. I have a car. Let me drop you off." Without waiting for a reply she took his briefcase from his hand and, using her shoulder, pushed him down the hall towards the parking garage.
"Good day, Mr. Von Hedem," she called over her shoulder, not looking back. Prestman said nothing, shuffling quickly to keep up with her quick pace. Von Hedem watched them go, a faint smile on his face.
JOYCE PUSHED INTO THE THICK TRAFFIC THAT ALWAYS seemed to block the exit from the court's parking garage. Prestman was fiddling with the seat belt still, having trouble strapping it across his large stomach.
Without thinking, eyes on the road, wheel in her left hand, she reached across with her right arm, adjusted the seat belt and snapped it. Just as she did a dozen times a week with her six-year-old. The Mercedes station wagon had an infant's seat in the rear, numerous toys scattered about, unopened circulars and mail stuffed in every available holder. She never seemed to have time to clean out the car.
"You live in Pacific Heights, don't you?"
Prestman looked at her in surprise. "Not for four years. When my wife died I moved to the Amoldton Club. On Van Ness."
"Oh." She noted a motorcycle cop near the freeway entrance and slowed down, her slim fingers drumming the steering wheel.
After a moment she picked up the cellular phone clipped on the console and punched in the number for her own direct line.
"Beth? This is Joyce. I've been held up in court and won't be in for another half hour. Tell Waxman, won't you? And would you call Apelton and Loftenelli and tell them that I can't make it for this afternoon. Check my calendar for rescheduling..." Her voice droned on while Prestman looked out the window trying not to think at all.
He'd have to call the clients tomorrow. Tell them that he had lost another motion. The fourth in a row, now. They had already been grumbling. He didn't want to think about their probable reaction. He bit his lower lip, watching as cars swerved out of the way of Joyce's very aggressive driving.
She hung up the phone, braked hard, swearing under her breath at a driver she considered too slow. Looking over her shoulder, she changed lanes and speeded down Van Ness Avenue.
Prestman cleared his throat. "I enjoyed your argument, Ms. Crowe. You did very well."
She closed her eyes for a moment in annoyance. When she answered, her voice was very even. "Thank you, Mr. Prestman. Is that your club, there?"
"Yes. Yes. Thank you very much."
She swerved across two lanes, braking to a halt, illegally parking before the blue awning covering the ornate doorway to the residence club.
"Bill Wentworth asked you to cover for him?" she asked, reaching across to unbuckle Prestman.
Wentworth was the firm's environmental lawyer, one of the team who had just successfully beaten back an attempt to build a pulp mill on the Truckee River.
Prestman was reaching to the back seat for his briefcase. "No. No, not really. This is my own case. Pro bono."
She stared at him now. "Pro bono? Against Ama lCo?"
He pulled the briefcase from the back seat and it landed in his lap with a thud. He gasped, the air knocked out of him. After a moment, looking out the front windshield, he answered, "Yes. But we have some clout, too. Prominent citizens."
She continued staring, watching him as he placidly sat in the passenger's seat making no movement to leave her car. "Springer assigned that case to you, Mr. Prestman?"
"Yes. Yes, you might say that. I volunteered."
"What team is assigned to the case?"
"Betty Freeman is my paralegal..."
"Yes. But she's quite helpful. And Michael Proud is the clerk."
"I don't know him."
Prestman said nothing but began working the door handle.
"Don't you have assistant counsel?"
"I'll be asking at the next meeting."
"But we just had a partners' meeting. You didn't mention it then. You weren't there, were you?”
He was looking down at the door, trying to manipulate the door handle, his other hand absently tapping the smooth leather of the briefcase. "I was a little under the weather that day. Stayed at home. I can always ask at the next meeting."
"That's three weeks away."
He looked at her at last. "Quite. I look forward to seeing you there. Thank you for the ride."
She put her hand on his forearm. "Don't you want some young lawyer assisting you before then?"
"It's the young who have gotten me into trouble already," he snapped. "That damned Proud missed the Dreyer case completely. I told him to be careful." He dropped his eyes to his briefcase. "Very embarrassing. Very. I won't work with him anymore."
She really looked at Prestman for the first time; his sallow complexion, veined hands, watery eyes. With a shock she realized that he must be close to eighty. "I think you should tell Springer that you need some assistance. Now."
"Well, it's pro bono..."
"Pro bono clients can still sue you for malpractice, can still ruin your reputation..."
His face hardened. "I told you I won't be working with Proud anymore. That should make the difference."
"Clerks aren't responsible for argument, the lawyer is. It was up to you..." She stopped as she saw him redden, his eyes start to bulge. She bit her lip and drummed her fingers on the wheel, watching the traffic roar by. "Well, it's your case, Mr. Prestman."
"Quite," he answered, and this time found the handle. He clumsily made his way out of the car, put down his briefcase and closed the door behind him with a slam. Keeping his hand on the window sill, he leaned over and looked back through the window.
For a moment their eyes met."You're quite pretty, Ms. Crowe. Quite."
Her nostrils flared. She was damned if she'd let him get away with that. "Yes, Mr. Prestman, I know. I find it very useful in court." She smiled at him with studied sweetness.
He blinked at her in confusion and straightened up. She wiggled her fingers at him, gunned the motor, and sped out into the traffic amid honking horns and cursing drivers.
PRISCILLA SANTELLI SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN IN HIS clinic at all, as far as Stein was concerned. She needed good company, not good therapy, and admitting her had been a gross error. Now that she was in she was becoming impossible to get out. While he was pondering that fact a solution to his own problem of his grand-nephew occurred to him.
Stein's clinic had been built according to his specifications to appear from the street as a large, sprawling mansion, ensconced in rolling lawns and well landscaped walks. The main building contained nine live-in-patient rooms, each carefully furnished by Stein in restrained but expensive taste, all located on the second floor down the hall from his own large office.
On the top floor of the mansion was his own small set of rooms and library, Hendrix's single room, and two very elegant suites for those patients whose families could afford the very best. The ground floor contained a living room and large study, both ornamented with tapestries, Persians and rare antiques, and a dining room whose long walnut table could easily seat twenty.
Henri, the clinic's chef, lived in a small bungalow to the rear of the mansion immediately behind the large kitchen which contained restaurant quality appliances. Henri had been hired away from one of the two local restaurants that Stein considered of equal quality to the best restaurants of New York.
In the basement, "as close to hell as the house could provide," as Stein declared, was an ancient black and white
television for those patients who suffered from what Stein termed,"...that disabling addiction." A never used Ping-Pong table, an ancient phonograph and a small collection of forties dance records completed Stein's concession to the need to entertain his patients. Few patients dared Stein's contempt by using the basement recreational facilities which soon became a de facto storeroom filled with closed patient files.
Only the main entrance foyer betrayed the clinical nature of his enterprise. One entered through a carved oak doorway into a small waiting room containing plastic chairs and ancient magazine, then confronted a heavy security door which opened into the clinic proper once an electronic code was punched into a keypad adjacent to the metal doorframe.
As the door swung open, the visitor was invariably astounded by the restrained splendor of the interior. As Prestman put it the first time he entered, "One leaves the waiting room of a ne'er-do-well dentist and enters into the living room of a wealthy maiden aunt." Stein was unsure as to whether he had been complimented by the remark.
As Stein had told Prestman, there were no padded cells.Hendrix was quite capable of handling any violence that an elderly patient was capable of threatening and since Stein only treated the elderly, this level of security was more than adequate. While each of the patient doors could be locked from the outside, it was a point of pride to Stein that in the twenty-nine years of its existence, the clinic had never used any of those locks.
Priscilla smiled pleasantly at Stein, trying to think of something outrageous to say so that Stein could not discharge her. Stein sat watching her, knowing precisely what she was planning to do and readying himself for the onslaught. He was determined that he would discharge her this week. She was equally determined that she would remain on the premises as long as she desired. They squared off in his office, he sitting behind his desk, she reclining on a couch across the room near the massive globe.
"Doctor, I should tell you about a dream I had last night." She slowly folded and unfolded her delicate hands which she had placed upon her pleasantly plump stomach. She stared at the ceiling while talking, a small smile on her still pretty face. In her early sixties, she carefully applied makeup each morning utilizing a style quite popular in the fifties.
"Mrs. Santelli, I have indicated to you previously that I do not value analysis of dream experiences. After our numerous sessions I am sure you recall that such is the case."
"But this dream was truly frightening, Doctor. I must share it with you."
"Must, Madam? Consider. Do you truly need to discuss it or do you merely wish to discuss it? I suspect the latter."
"Doctor, this dream involved sex with a dead body."
"Really. That is not unusual."
"It was my own father."
"Yes, that is typical..."
"With an animal. The three of us. A dog, I believe."
Stein sighed quietly and kept his voice level. "A dog, Madam?"
"Not unusual at all, Mrs. Santelli. Now let us discuss your concern regarding living alone..."
"My sister was there, too. Naked. For sex."
"That is the normal condition to be in for sex. Do you still feel that living alone would be frightening for you? Have you considered the points I made to you at our last session regarding responsibility?"
Mrs. Santelli pondered for a few moments and concluded that pursuing the dream would not be of value. She tried another tack. "Being alone does frighten me, Doctor. I am being followed. I can sense it. He's waiting for me to be alone, then he will attack."
"Who is he?"
She considered a moment. "My father."
Stein grimaced. "With the dog, I presume? The German Shepherd?" She turned her head to observe him behind the desk. From her relatively low angle, all she could see was his massive head, eyes magnified by the thick lenses of his glasses.
She pouted and was silent.
He sighed. "Mrs. Santelli, I know it is unpleasant to confront your current relationships with your younger relatives. I know that. Nevertheless, it must be done. And fabrications will only hinder our efforts to solve your true problems."
"Fabrications? I tell you of my greatest fears and you don't take me seriously." She blinked rapidly, not meeting his eyes.
"Do you believe that your fabrications will be swallowed by the gullible psychiatrist? Do I not know you well enough to discount this nonsense? Mrs. Santelli, it is time to consider your true concerns, your true fears. In that regard I may be of service to you. In that respect we may achieve progress."
Her mouth became a tight line and she turned her attention to the ceiling. "You will throw me out. Like everyone else." She closed her eyes.
For the first time Stein leaned forward onto his desk, his eyes now examining the woman closely. His voice had softened when next he spoke. "Now you are expressing the emotions I need to hear, Mrs. Santelli. Now we may truly begin our discussion. You consider discharge from this facility as rejection when, in reality, it is affirmation of your mental health, is it not?"
She kept her eyes closed. After a moment she whispered, "It is affirmation that I am a nuisance. A useless creature to be returned to solitude until I cause my son enough difficulty to be readmitted." She opened her eyes looking at him. They were bright and wet. "What good am I?"
Stein rested his head on one fist, his other hand absently rolling a pen on his blotter. "What good, indeed? You consider yourself a useless individual, appropriate for immediate disposal. And you conclude that others agree with that evaluation. Correct?"
She nodded, a tear making a small canyon on her powdered cheek.
"And living alone is banishment. A sentence imposed upon you by a bored and frustrated family who seek to isolate you from themselves for their own comfort and convenience. You choose to avenge yourself by inappropriate conduct which will cause them such inconvenience and perhaps guilt such that they will reconsider their previous lack of interest. Thus you recline on my couch and fabricate what you consider symptoms of mental illness which you have gleaned from Hollywood or the pornographic studios of San Francisco."
Her eyes widened but she said nothing. He studied her a moment longer. "I know this is painful. I sympathize. Indeed, I empathize since my age impels me to confront many of the same...insults...indignities that you seem to feel..."
"You? Everyone respects you. How can you know...?"
"Everyone does not respect me, Madam. And I am well aware that my abilities must decline as my years advance. What has earned respect...my abilities...are diminishing. That is my concern, not unlike yours."
She shook her head. "No, Doctor, with your mind and your reputation, you can't possibly understand what it is like to be in my position. You can't..." Her voice faded away.
Stein waited a moment, then continued. "I agree that you face an aging problem perhaps unique to women who are mothers. Yet we both face problems of adjusting to changed circumstances caused by our years."
He was silent again, studying her face. Then, quietly, "The only comfort I can give you is that all persons must ultimately join us in our discomfort. All of us, in our own ways, will confront the same agonies of...futility... feelings of uselessness...of decay. And your despair is not a sign of mental illness. Indeed, it is a sign of mental health."
She said nothing, studying her hands pressed tight together in her lap. Even more softly, he added, “Look at me."
He reached across the desk and held out his hand. She hesitated, and then took it, eyes brimming. He locked eyes on hers and then pronounced, "Madam, I have some very critical information to impart." He paused for effect. "You are completely healthy. You are mentally sound. Indeed, your current plot to remain on these premises is evidence not only of mental soundness, but of mental agility and a healthy dose of aggression and hostility which, under the circumstances, is quite appropriate."
Dropping his hand, she slowly leaned back, her left hand wiping away tears and causing a large irregular gap in her cosmetic mask. She gazed at Stein, eyes wide and anxious.
He also leaned back in his seat, eyes now on the ceiling. "You see, Madam, you are possibly quite correct in your evaluation of the emotional reaction of your younger relatives. You may be a burden to them except on certain occasions such as holidays and birthdays when a grandmother sitting by the hearth is a pleasant object to have in one's living room."
Her eyes hardened, a tight smile on her lips. "Yes, Doctor. And if I sat in a rocker with a shawl, I'd be in even greater demand, wouldn't I?"
He kept his eyes on the ceiling, apparently oblivious of her increasing anger. "Quite right. Ideally you would be carefully wrapped and stored like Christmas tree ornaments to be utilized only on special occasions, taken down from the attic and placed in the living room to remind everyone of the warmth of the Dickensian holidays. Grandchildren on your knees, giggling with delight as you read to them of bears or reindeer..."
"Stop this!" She glared. "Why are you doing this? Your sarcasm is unprofessional, Doctor."
He blinked. Then, softly, "I was not being sarcastic, Madam, as both of us know. The condition I was describing is an accurate portrayal of the fantasies held by your grown children, is it not? Why else are you here in my clinic? You do not wish to conform to their preconceived version of your appropriate lifestyle, correct? You dare to want to live as you once lived, not as they wish to have you live.This I respect and, indeed, applaud. I salute you for such defiance. But your solution for the stress your struggle causes? You come to me! Madam, that is..."
He halted due to Hendrix's soft knocking on the door. Leaning back in his chair, he sighed in annoyance. To interrupt him during a session was strictly forbidden unless a dire emergency had occurred. Priscilla brightened considerably, realizing that the interruption could save the day.
"Yes?" Stein barked.
The door opened slowly, Hendrix's head appearing around the edge. "Sorry, doctor. Could you come out a moment?"
"Must I? It is critical?"
Hendrix did not answer, his expression showing his annoyance that the question had even been asked. Stein grunted in exasperation and pushed himself up from the desk. With a nod to Priscilla, he made his way out the door, Hendrix closing the door softly behind him.
In the middle of the thick carpeting which ran the length of Stein's hallway, stood his grand-nephew. Stein stood before the ten-year-old regarding him without expression. The small boy stood with his hands straight at his sides, head back to look up at the tall and very corpulent doctor. A moment of silence while Hendrix watched, grinning.
At last, with a certain sadness, Stein said, "You are Jeffrey, I presume."
The boy continued to stare for a moment then softly answered. "Yes."
"You have arrived three days early, Jeffrey."
Stein sighed and looked at Hendrix. "He has arrived three days early."
Hendrix sobered his face. "Yes, Doctor."
Stein returned his gaze to Jeffrey who had now clasped his hands in front of him. "You were to arrive Friday. It is Tuesday."
"I am three days early," said the boy.
Stein looked down the hall, thinking. Then, "You are ten years old. I have little experience with children. Are you of normal stature? You appear smaller than I anticipated."
The boy's eyes widened but he didn't answer, meeting the Doctor's gaze steadily.
"He's about right, Doctor," Hendrix said. "That's what they look like at that age."
Stein continued to look at the boy. "Hendrix will make up your room. It is not ready quite yet."
"I am three days early," said the boy, his voice as sad as Stein's had been.
"Yes," Stein agreed. They regarded each other a moment longer. "You watch television as a past-time, do you not? We have a television." He sighed again.
The boy also sighed. "Yes. I watch television."
"I do not."
The boy licked his lips. "You don't?"
"No. I find it idiotic."
Another long moment of silence. "I don't think it's idiotic. I like some of the shows."
"I do not. I have not viewed the appliance for years."
The boy dropped his gaze to Stein's enormous stomach and a watch chain that curved across it and disappeared into a slightly torn vest pocket. His voice was small. "How do you know it isn't good if you haven't seen it for years?"
Stein's eyelids drooped. "It hasn't altered since I last braced myself and exposed myself to its torment."
The boy returned his solemn eyes to Stein's. "But the shows I like are new ones. You haven't seen them. They're good. You should try them."
Stein said nothing for a moment, his face thoughtful. "It is black and white."
"The television. It is black and white."
The boy's eyes widened. "No color?"
"It is old. like me."
The boy considered that for a moment. "You like old things?"
"Because you're old?"
Hendrix carefully looked away, smiling. Stein examined the boy closely before answering. "Let me be precise. Despite its advanced age, the television is still not a mechanism I think on fondly. Its lack of color does not save it from the depravity it represents. Are you aware of that horror they call canned laughter?"
The boy nodded.
"They have now inserted that insulting device on each and every program in which the masses are programmed to smirk and chortle. And since the placid viewers may be unaware of where the humor is located, or, more likely, may have a faint inkling that there is no actual humor in the program, the producers rely on herd instinct and compel laughter by having ancient recordings of now dead people who laugh upon electronic cue. Consider that, Jeffrey! Does that not give you pause?"
The boy's eyes widened even more. "Dead people laughing?"
"No more dead than the simpletons who spend their finite free time transfixed by the pulsating light of the..."
"He means the recordings are of dead people, Jeffrey," Hendrix interrupted, stepping between Stein and the boy. "They're old recordings, that's all he means. C'mon, let me show you your room." He took the boy by the shoulder and started to guide him down the hallway away from Stein.
The boy resisted, looking back over his shoulder, eyes fixed on the Doctor. He kept his eyes on Stein as he was led down the hall. Just before Hendrix pulled him around the corner Jeffrey said, "I like television." Then he was gone.
Stein sighed, blinked rapidly and drummed his fingers on his pants leg. He remained there for a few moments, looking down the empty hallway. Jeffrey was three days early.
Stein pulled his pocket watch from his vest, tearing the pocket a little more without noticing. Prestman would arrive in about thirty minutes. Replacing the watch, Stein reentered his office, eyes on the floor, not noticing Priscilla's bright and anxious look. He sat at his desk heavily, sighed, and at last looked up. He studied Priscilla for a long moment.
"Madam, you are a grandmother." Priscilla nodded. Stein studied her a moment longer. "Presumably, you enjoy the company of children."
"I love children. They are so loving, so trusting. They haven't learned how the world..."
"I have such a creature under my roof at this very moment. It is an unusual experience for me. I will undoubtedly require both advice and perhaps some active assistance in carrying out my duties to the child. You possess such expertise?"
"You? A child?"
His mouth tightened. "My grand-nephew. My brother is long dead, but his son is undergoing surgery. In Europe. His wife accompanies him. I will retain the child for more than four weeks and less than eight weeks. Here. Under my roof." He paused and looked at his blotter. "More than four weeks. Less than eight weeks."
Priscilla bounced up and down a little on the couch. "How exciting! It will be wonderful for you. How old is the little darling?"
Stein frowned and regarded her a moment before replying. "Ten years old. Why do you presume he is a darling? As with all humans, his nature is not predictable merely from his age."
She smiled. "All children are darlings at that age, Doctor. Now you are dealing with my area of expertise. Where is he?"
"Before you see him we should discuss the terms of my proposed interaction. I am willing to have you remain in my clinic for the term of the child's stay or twelve weeks, whichever first occurs, at half rate. I will also agree to a single session each week without additional compensation."
She sobered. "Only one session? We do four a week now."
"As you very well know, these sessions are not required for your mental health. You are fully healthy, merely misguided in your efforts to influence your relatives. The single session will be to assure me that the child is not adversely affecting your mental health. I have that responsibility to you."
"I am not acting. I have a desperate need for your services..."
"That is a moot point if we agree on my proposed transaction. I will also advance such sums as are necessary to entertain the child on outings away from the premises."
"You're trying to get rid of both of us."
He blinked. "Of course I am. Was there any doubt of that fact? You do not need my services and he undoubtedly dreads my company. This transaction will be to our mutual benefit."
She shook her head, smiling at him despite herself. "Doctor, a child is not a disease. He'll be good for you. What's his name?"
She stood up, brisk now. "He's downstairs with Mr. Hendrix, right?"
"Upstairs. You agree to my proposal?"
"Oh, Doctor!" she exclaimed in exasperation, and hurried out the door, already looking through her purse for implements to repair her makeup.
He remained seated at the desk, a surprised look on his face. She had not replied. She had shown more character and force in the last three minutes than he had seen in the last five weeks. He chewed his lip, pondering the therapeutic value of children to treat elderly females.
Sarah had reacted to children like that. Before the accident which crippled her. She would blossom, would positively glow whenever the possibility of having a child by Stein was discussed. Despite his protests she had kept that fantasy. Until the accident. He sighed and pushed her from his mind, concentrating instead on the idea of writing an article proposing visits of children to geriatric clinics.
He was still sitting there contemplating such issues when there was a soft knock on the door and, five seconds later, Hendrix opened the door. "Mr. Prestman to see you, Doctor."
Stein remained seated as Prestman slowly moved around Hendrix and shuffled to the leather chair before Stein's desk. Prestman did not raise his eyes from the floor. He was using a cane today. He sat heavily and lifted his eyes to Stein. Slowly, with effort, he smiled. "Good day, Doctor. How are things in the world of psychiatry?"
"Satisfactory. How is your health?"
The door softly closed as Prestman studied the polished cane in his lap. "Oh, all right, I suppose. All right." He sighed and looked out the French windows.
"You are not factual. Your health has apparently deteriorated markedly. What is wrong?"
Prestman remained staring out the windows. He swallowed and would not meet Stein's steady gaze. A very long minute passed. Stein leaned forward. "Andrew, what has happened?"
"Nothing. Nothing." Prestman swallowed again and forced himself to meet Stein's stare. "I am fine. Where shall we eat, my friend?"
Stein paused. Then, softly, "How is your pro bono case proceeding? Has the firm assigned adequate assistance to you?"
Prestman straightened in the chair. "I have very poor assistants, if you must know. Very poor. I think my clerk is a drug addict. I will not work with him anymore. It's embarrassing. Very embarrassing." His eyes drifted away to the windows again.
"This is the clerk whose proclivity for marijuana concerned you previously?"
Prestman leaned forward on the desk. "Who knows what else he takes? One thing leads to another, you know."
Stein played with his pen on the blotter for a moment. "Perhaps you should request a new assistant?"
Prestman clenched his fist on the desk. He stared at it, avoiding Stein's inquiring eyes. His voice was almost a whisper. "They want to take me off the case."
Stein studied his pen and said nothing.
Prestman continued. "They want to assign it to someone else..someone younger. Springer told me. Before the last partners meeting."
Stein leaned back. "Perhaps it is for the best..."
"Nonsense. It's my case. Mine."
"Why exhaust yourself..."
"My case. If I had decent help, there'd be no problem. They give me this addict who can't find the right cases.
And Betty Freeman only knows probate. What do they expect?"
"You've requested new assistants?"
"Of course. But they want to take me off the case as well. Me. Well, I'm still a partner there. I gave them a piece of my mind. With the right help, we'll turn it around. I told Springer that. In no uncertain terms."
"You are satisfied with your new assistants?"
"Not really, if you must know. The paralegal is decidedly unfriendly. One of those girls who think they know it all. Too proud to do typing. And the young attorney they've given me hasn't been in for the last two days. Sick. They're giving me the dregs, I tell you. What do they expect?" Prestman leaned back in the chair, hands holding the cane tightly. Stein noticed that the cane was shaking.
"What is the current status of the case?"
"We have a major appearance in two weeks. A motion for summary judgment."
"If they win, the court will dismiss the case. It's vital that I have good assistants. So what does the firm want to do? Take me off. Me. And I'm the one that knows the case backwards and forwards."
"And the clients? What do they say?"
Prestman studied the cane in his hands. "Well, they're a little discouraged right now. They don't understand that it's a long haul. They want to win each fight, each hearing. I keep telling them that it's the war that counts, not each battle. You have to have a lot of experience to realize that, you know."
Stein slowly put the pen in the desk drawer. "Let us go to lunch, Andrew."
But Andrew did not move, sitting before Stein, the cane grasped tightly in his lap, his eyes on Stein's blotter.
Stein looked at him, waiting for a reaction. There was none. "Andrew? Shall we go?"
"It's critical to have the right assistants, you know. Critical. You can't expect good results without adequate backup."'
"I told them he was a drug addict. They didn't care. Reynolds would have. He knew how to run a firm."
"Yes. A good man. Dead now."
A silence for well over a minute as each sat there. Stein shrugged slightly, perhaps to himself.
"French or Italian?"
Prestman raised his eyes and locked them on Stein. "Without good backup it's impossible. We're going against top competition. They have good men there. The best." He swallowed and looked down at his shaking hands.
Well..." began Stein. He didn't know what to say.
"I told them, Doctor. I told them what's on the line. And their solution? Take me off the case. Like hell they will. Like hell..." His voice trailed off.
The two old men sat in silence for a minute or so. Then Prestman sighed. His voice was so soft that Stein had to lean forward to hear him. "I know, Gerald. I know. You warned me. You did. Humiliation. That's what you said. That I was a fool to take the case..."
"That's not what I said."
"That's what you thought. A fool. An old fool. And you know what?"
Stein shook his head.
"You were right. Right! I was a fool to trust them to back me. Forty-six years at the firm and they stab me in the back the minute things get tough. Talk behind my back. Tell me to get off the case. Me. The oldest man still practicing in the firm. The oldest..." He stopped speaking, voice shaky. He studied his hands in his lap, swallowing.
Stein's eyes widened, his mouth tightened. He studied the wall behind Prestman's head, saying nothing. Finally, voice tight, "French or Italian?"
"Gerald? Are they...do you think...?" Prestman pressed his fingers to his temples leaning on the desk, head down. "They...they don't understand. Won't help. Give me bad assistants, drug addicts. Then they blame me..."
"My friend..." Stein sighed and stopped himself. He had already tried. He would not try again. 'French or Italian?"
Prestman leaned back in his chair, a small smile on his pallid face. "You know what is important, Doctor. French, of course. You know I like French food."
"Yes. I know. Let us leave."
"Yes. Yes." Prestman shoved himself up, using the desk. Stein watched him hobble towards the door. He bit his lower lip. Shaking his head slightly, he rose and slowly followed the old man.
PRESTMAN RESENTED THE PERMANENTLY SEALED windows in the office. Oh, he understood that the massive height of the new style skyscrapers would not permit opening windows. The air pressure would rip the room apart, or some such thing. And admittedly the air conditioning was invariably perfect; no more days of humid heat while one leaned over a desk, sweat dripping onto a half written brief. But he missed being able to open the windows.
One of his best memories. A late June night. Nineteen fifty-four. Almost midnight, Wednesday becoming Thursday. Streets deserted fifteen stories below. Warm breeze off the Oakland hills, slightly cooled as it rolled over San Francisco Bay and slid around the buildings. The final draft of the Supreme Court brief being typed by the secretary in the office next door, due at nine o'clock the next morning.
His younger associate asleep on the couch across the office, a half eaten dinner of ham sandwiches on paper plates scattered over his desk, scrawled writing on the dozens of pages of yellow foolscap crumpled and tossed about the room.
Prestman had been sitting on the open window sill, smoking a cigarette, his vest unbuttoned, his tie loosened, watching the midnight moon slowly set behind the other skyscrapers. The only sound was the crisp clicking of the typewriter, the soft blowing of the curtains.
The brief was almost ready and the brief was damned good. In six weeks he'd drive to Sacramento in his new Kaiser sedan and argue the case before the California Supreme Court. He was ready. Very ready. He was going to win. He knew it. He smiled dreamily, watching the moonlight bleach the granite walls about him.
He had tossed the cigarette out the window, watching it tumble the fifteen stories to the dark street below. The sharp ping of the typewriter bell, the whirring sound as the carriage was returned. Loosening his tie still more, he leaned his head back against the side of the window frame, closing his eyes, savoring the fatigue, the sense of accomplishment. He knew, even then, that that moment would be one of the great ones, one of the instants in time that would remain fixed in his memory, to be collected and recalled during the bad times.
He had absently flexed his fist, sore from the hours of writing, feeling his biceps bulge. He was in control of his world. He was powerful. He knew it. He was a top attorney, one of the elites of this society, engaged in intellectual combat with another verbal gladiator of near equal skill and about to argue before one of the highest courts in the land.
He already knew what his opening line to the judges would be, how he would parry the verbal thrusts his opponent would undoubtedly try. He had already won in the Court of Appeals. And the lower court had commented on his remarkable approach to the issue of privity. "Original and innovative," the majority had written. And now he was to go the highest court of his state, the best state Supreme Court in the land. And he was about to win.
Grinning, he had pivoted off the sill, picked up his coat which had been hanging on the back of his chair behind the desk, threw it over his shoulder, and ambled next door to where the young secretary was rapidly typing.
She was surrounded by papers and carbons, bent over the small desk, a cigarette smoking itself out on the ashtray next to the typewriter. She was young and pretty, plump and blonde, and very excited to be working on such an important brief. She suddenly noticed him standing behind her and, blushing, stopped typing, her fingers poised over the keys.
He sat on the edge of her desk, coat still over his shoulder, putting her cigarette out with his free hand. "You must be getting pretty tired, Miss Stakes."
She leaned back, blushing still more. "Oh no, Mr. Prestman. This is so exciting. I mean the Supreme Court and all."
He smiled and leaned forward to see what she was typing. "The final section. That's pretty fast work." She smiled, looking down in mild embarrassment. He thought her very pretty. "We appreciate your efforts, Miss Stoakes. You must have worked forty hours straight."
She patted her hair which was tied into a tight bun at the nape of her neck. "I must look a sight."
"You look wonderful." She beamed. "And so does the brief," he added, picking up one of the numerous stacks of papers piled about her desk.
She studied him for a moment: his lean, serious face, hawk-like nose, hard grey eyes. His face seemed to concentrate itself to focus totally on the brief held in his hand. He had totally forgotten her, totally forgotten everything but the pleadings, his lips moving as he read the pages critically, brows slightly furrowed.
She noted the wedding ring on the hand holding the papers and her mouth tightened. She turned back to the typewriter and her fingers began to speed over the keys again. He sat there, occasionally nodding his head in agreement as he encountered a section of the brief he found especially convincing, his leg dangling off the floor, rocking back and forth as he read.
After another ten minutes she leaned back and stretched. Her large breasts were encased in rigid nylon cones molded against the thin material of her blouse. As she arched her back her blouse tightened over what would have been her nipples but were now curved hard ridges of white elastic. She closed her eyes, arms above her head as she stretched, knowing that Prestman would be looking at her. She took her time.
"Oh, my poor back, Mr. Prestman." She opened her eyes, smiling, arms still above her head. He was looking at her, papers still clutched in his hands. She had seen one of her favorite stars do this in a Western. Nervous, she wondered what would happen next.
What happened next was that Prestman thought of his six-year-old son. The son who, thirteen years later, would die in agony when a canister of napalm exploded during routine loading at a small airfield near Da Nang. Andy, his boy, had told him that he would leave milk and cookies out for Prestman so that when Prestman came home late he wouldn't be hungry. "Just like for Santa Claus, Dad," he had said, his head in the cupboard looking for some already opened cookies.
They had to be already opened so that Eleanor wouldn't be angry when she discovered that they had opened a new bag when there were bags already open. "Oh you two," she would say, huffing, not looking at them as she wrapped the newly stale cookies in Saran Wrap. But she would smile, enjoying the fact that her two men were so male, for didn't all men do such things?
Prestman looked at the two sharp breasts straining against the hard elastic in the shiny synthetic blouse. He pulled his eyes up to her face. She was looking at him with more curiosity than sensuality. "You're doing very well, Miss Stoakes. You may be sure I’ll tell Mr. Reynolds about your loyalty to the firm. Your commitment." He patted her on the shoulder and slid off the desk, hoping his erection was not visible in the loose suit pants.
She sighed, a slight smile on her face, and her fingers moved over the keys again while she tried to remember the ending of that Western. She thought the hero had died, drowned or something. She heard Prestman packing his briefcase in the office next door.
Springer leaned against the enormous conference table in front of Prestman blocking his view of the huge window that would not open. Prestman moved his cane from where he had leaned it against the table so that Springer would not tip it over. About them was the buzzing of voices, anoccasional bark of laughter. The meeting would begin in about ten minutes but most partners arrived early to engage in politicking, in reestablishing connections and alliances.
"You're looking very well today, Andrew." Springer's voice was firm and hearty. He crinkled the skin about his eyes as he shook Prestman's hand.
"Thank you, Peter. I feel fine. How are the kids?"
"Great. Growing too fast."
"A boy and a girl, right?"
"Two boys. Look, can we chat next door for a minute or two?"
"Of course." Prestman took the cane and leaned forward, using it to push himself to his feet. Springer moved to the side to give him room watching his struggle closely.
Once up, Prestman hobbled to the door of the conference room, younger attorneys coming in and brushing by him with automatic apologies. Springer remained at the table watching Prestman totter to the door. Springer sighed.
Joyce Crowe leaned next to him against the table. Moving her head close to his, she softly said, "Good luck, Peter. Good luck."
He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and sighed. "Yeah. I'll need it." He straightened, pulled his vest down, and strode to the doorway that Prestman had just reached. The younger attorneys made way for him as he gently took Prestman's elbow and angled him towards an empty office next to the large conference room.
Prestman shuffled to the sofa against the far wall while Springer sat behind the desk. Springer realized that they had picked Arnoldson's office, an associate whose billing would either have to be increased by one third or he would have to be let go. On the desk facing Springer were pictures of Arnoldson's wife and three kids. Arnoldson was in Hawaii, two days left on vacation. Springer would talk to him when he returned. For now, Prestman was the problem.
Springer clasped his hands on the desk and studied them a moment. Prestman moved about on the soft couch, trying to find a comfortable position and failing. After a moment, Springer sighed and looked up.
"Andrew, this isn't going to be pleasant."
Prestman tightened his mouth and held the cane in his two hands between his legs. He said nothing.
"We've already discussed the feeling of many of the partners that this AmalCo thing is getting out of hand. That you should...let others come in."
"It's my case."
"It's the firm's case, Andrew. The firm's. I know you feel tremendous loyalty to the firm."
"Of course. That's why I'm working so hard on it. If you gave me some decent assistants instead of addicts..."
"Proud is not an addict, Andrew, and you've got to stop spreading that story around."
"He smokes marijuana."
"So do half the associates in this firm."
"They're all addicts, then. No wonder."
"Look, Andrew, Proud isn't the problem. He says he told you about that case, told you it was overruled. You told him not to change the brief."
"That's a lie. Addicts lie all the time." Prestman's hands were shaking, the cane vibrating. Prestman put the
cane in his lap so that Springer would not see. Springer saw and studied the blotter.
"Andrew, I want you off the case. And I want you off today. I want to put Creighton and Crowe on it. Today."
"No. Absolutely not."
Springer raised his eyes. Prestman was trying to get out of the soft sofa and failing, falling back on the cushions, face flushed and angry. "It's my goddamned case," he muttered, "If I had some help around here, if those damned girls typed instead of gossiped..."
"Please don't leave yet, Andrew. I have more to say."
Prestman stopped struggling, falling back in the sofa breathing hard. "Very well. Go on."
"Yesterday a committee of the clients, the citizens groups, came to see me. Complaining."
"Complaining? To you?"
"Yes. They're not at all happy with the way the case is going. They're worried about the summary judgment next week. Very worried."
"Well, so am I. I need some damned good paralegals, not the ones you've given me."
"Andrew, you selected your assistants on this one. You knew Betty Freeman was probate. You can't blame me for this."
"Well, give me someone else now. And get rid of that addict."
"Your clients want you off the case, Andrew. They insist. And I think they're right."
"They haven't said that to me."
"They said it to me. They don't want to...hurt you. Your feelings. They like you, Andrew. They just don't think...you should do trial work now...at your age."
"Experience is vital to this type of case. You youngsters overrate vigor and underrate experience. I was arguing cases before you were born."
"I know that. I appreciate that."'
"It's my case, Peter. You weren't even going to take it."
"Damned right I wasn't. And I'm sorry we have it now. It's costing the firm tens of thousands of dollars. If the court would let us out, we'd drop it tomorrow."
"This is an important case, Peter..."
"And expensive. Jesus, Andrew, we're taking on the oil companies for free. That's nuts."
Prestman sat straighter. "I don't decide which cases to take predicated on the monetary resources of the opponent. We're on the side of right here."
Springer flushed. "Look, Andrew, money is power and our clients have none. If our clients don't front the costs, the firm does. And this case is going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney time. We never should have taken it. And our clients are talking malpractice now..."
"You heard me. They say we've lost every court appearance and that we've been outmaneuvered at every step. I think that if we lose the next motion, they're going to bring action against us. I mean it."
Prestman studied the desk in front of him, chewing his lip. "I've never been sued for malpractice," he said softly. After a moment, firmer, "It's Proud who should be sued. Damn him."
Springer closed his eyes in annoyance. He had to wrap this up. The meeting was to begin any minute. "It's time for you to get off the case, Andrew. I want to announce it at this meeting."
"No. I know what you intend to do. The minute I'm off, you'll settle. To get out of the case. This case shouldn't settle. The oil companies..."
"Settle. Hell, we'll be kicked out of court in another week. The oil companies won't settle; they're winning."
"Only in the preliminaries. At trial..."
"We'll never get to trial. The court's going to kick us out on our butts. Our only chance is to bring in some more vigorous..."
"No. It's my case. If they want to assist..."
"Both Creighton and Crowe insist that they be lead counsel. They're both senior, Andrew. They don't assist."
"Neither do I. And neither is more senior than I am." He began to try to rise again, rocking about the soft cushions, the cane slipping on the parquet floor.
Springer's soft voice stopped him. Springer was looking out the window as he spoke. "Andrew, remember when I first came on board. Must be twenty years ago. Remember?"
Prestman hesitated, then fell back on the couch. "Yes."
Prestman's eyes widened. He blinked. Then he looked at the floor. "I remember him. But he was erratic. Mad. You aren't saying....you aren't inferring...?”
Springer looked at Prestman. "No, Andrew, you're not like him. Thank God. But he almost broke the firm. You and Reynolds took him aside, do you remember? You once told me about it."
Prestman kept staring at the floor. "Yes. Yes, I remember."
"And do you remember what you told me you said to Solliday? You and Reynolds?"
Prestman looked up, eyes defiant. "I'm not Solliday. He was mad, I tell you. Arguing with persons who were already dead. Singing in court."
"He was just old."
"He was mad, not old."
"He was senile..."
"And I am not, damn you. I know I talk slower than before, that I can't get around as well, but..."
"Andrew, you told me that you and Reynolds confronted Solliday and told him that his ego would have to give way to the good of the firm and the good of the client. You told me that. And you told me Solliday argued for a while then agreed. And remember what else you said to me?"
Prestman glared at Springer, not answering.
"You told me that you respected Solliday more for agreeing to retire than you did for anything else he had ever done. That it took more bravery, more character than anything you had ever seen him do. You told me that. You."
Prestman was looking at the floor again.
Springer's voice was tight with emotion. "I always remembered that, Andrew. What you said. I had been here...what? Five years? You were like a teacher to me then. My mentor. Remember how I assisted you in the Ajax case? The Thrasher case? Remember?"
Prestman didn't look up but he slowly smiled, nodding.
Springer had a lump in his throat. He swallowed. "Andrew, do you have any idea how hard this is for me? You mean a lot to...the firm. You're our history. We know that. But...you've got to let go. With dignity. Now. You've got to do it now."
The two men sat in silence, neither looking at each other. Several minutes passed. Then a young associate put his head around the door frame. His eyes flickered to Prestman then settled on Springer. "Sir? The meeting is beginning."
Springer nodded and the head disappeared. Prestman had not moved, had not reacted at all. They sat in silence for a few moments longer.
At last Springer softly asked, "Andrew? Will you agree?"
Slowly, very slowly, Prestman raised his face and gazed at Springer. He swallowed. "You just want to settle the case as soon as possible. To sell out. These oil companies have intimidated you. That's why you want me off the case."
"I won't withdraw. Now or ever. It's my case."
Springer colored. "Andrew, don't force this. I'll bring it to a vote if I have to. The Partners will take you off."
"Like hell they will."
"They will if I tell them what's happening with the case. Jesus, Andrew, think of the clients. They want other attorneys in this firm to handle it. Don't you feel some responsibility to them...?"
"Yes I do. Which is why I'm staying on this case so you won't settle it."
Springer stood up. "Very well, Andrew. You're forcing me to act. I can't wait. The motion's next week."
"Give me some better assistants."
"That isn't the problem. You are. Let's go to the meeting." He walked briskly from the room, not waiting for Prestman, not looking back.
Prestman tried to rise again but the cane kept slipping on the smooth floor. At last, glancing around quickly to
make sure no one could see, he fell to his knees in front ofthe sofa and used the desk and cane to slowly push up to
his feet. He straightened his vest with his free hand as he hurriedly tottered to the elegant conference room next door.
Poised forty-eight stories above the city, the conference room was the showplace' for the firm, one wall solid glass overlooking the brilliant blue of the Bay, two of the remaining walls with floor to ceiling shelves lined with ancient law volumes no one ever used, and the remaining wall fitted with a cadenza now topped with coffee and tea thermoses.
A massive, oval, cherrywood conference table occupied the entire center of the room, swivel chairs in black leather
surrounding it. Before each swivel chair was a clean pad of foolscap, two pencils, one pen, one coaster, and the three page agenda for the meeting. Only the sixteen partners and the office manager were allowed to attend, the twenty-six attorney-associates all hoping to eventually make it to partner and have a swivel chair of their own.
It was not required to make every meeting and vacations or ongoing trials were considered adequate justification for missing a few. Any attorney foolish enough to miss most of the meetings would soon find him or herself outmaneuvered in the never ending game of politics that determined who obtained what cases, who was assigned what paralegal or office.
Springer, as managing attorney, ran the meetings, assisted by the managing committee which was composed of three of the senior attorneys. Prestman had retired from the managing committee four years before. They sat on either side of Springer who shuffled the numerous papers before him, not looking at Prestman hobbling to his chair near the end of the table, twenty feet away. Prestman was the last to arrive and the receptionist placed a mug of coffee before him, smiling professionally, before softly closing the door to the room.
The room was still buzzing with animated conversations among the partners. No one spoke to Prestman though the members of the managing committee nodded at him. Springer was looking at his papers but speaking softly to the committee members. Joyce Crowe, across the table from Prestman, rose and went over to Springer, leaning over him while he spoke. Occasionally they would look at Prestman. He slowly drank his coffee, looking straight ahead at Joyce's empty chair.
"Let's begin," Springer said loudly, his voice calm but brisk. "Shall we first discuss the office picnic on May 12?"
Prestman did not participate in the various agenda items, saving his strength for the coming fray. He looked out the window, noting the increasing high clouds that were whitening the sky, the occasional sailboat on the bay. He idly wondered who could take time off during the week to sail. And why they would. Aren't weekends enough? He wondered how the wind would feel if he could open the window so far above the city.
How long would it take a cigarette to flutter down to the street?
Had that secretary ever married? He seemed to recall that she had been around the firm even after he won in the Supreme Court. He seemed to recall that her plumpness had turned to fatness. Or maybe that was another secretary, one with dark hair.
Springer calling his name made him start. Springer was looking directly at him. "Have I accurately presented the issues, Mr. Prestman? Or would you like to add something?"
Prestman looked about the table, the calm intelligent faces with eyes all downcast. Except for Joyce Crowe. She was looking directly at him, eyes hard and bright. He felt the stirrings of anger.
"Of course I wish to comment." He licked his lips. "The very essence of being an attorney is to take pro bono cases, to serve the cause of justice. We are not just practicing the law for the monetary rewards..."
"That's not the issue," Springer snapped. "We're not speaking of withdrawing from the case but of changing key personnel in the case, predicated on the client's stated wishes."
"Nonsense." Prestman barked, face flushing. "Clients don't know what's best for a case. Clients don't know when a lawyer is doing well or not. They just judge by results. And that can be independent of the skill of a lawyer..."
"That's damned true," mumbled Greystone, the senior member of the managing committee, a man in his early sixties. "Hell, I get praised for what amounts to luck all the time."
Springer cleared his throat. "Here we have six court appearances without a single success. We also have..." he hesitated, then plunged on, "...Clients who have made it clear that they consider our activities as amounting to malpractice."
"They don't know what's really happening," Prestman replied. "And I resent you bringing that up in this meeting."
There was a brief pause, the various attorneys still avoiding Prestman's eyes. Even Joyce Crowe now looked down at the pad of paper in front of her. Prestman suddenly realized that Springer had already discussed this with them before the meeting,that an informal headcount had already been made. That he was lost.
He pushed his chair back and slowly rose to his feet. "The real reason you want me off the case is that I won't settle. I know that. You don't want to lose the money doing this as a pro bono case..."
"Andrew," Springer interrupted, "be careful what you say. There is no need to get emotional..."
"Emotional." He started fumbling in his pocket for a handkerchief. He was sweating. "You want to pull me off a case claiming I'm incompetent...no good...then say I shouldn't get upset. You assign me assistants who are incompetent then blame me."
Joyce Crowe's voice was tight. "Stop slandering poor Michael Proud, Mr. Prestman. He's a good worker."
"He's an addict. He's the one responsible for a lot of the problems. But he's young, so you blame me..." His shaking hand was mopping his brow. He braced himself with his free hand on the table.
Joyce sighed and looked over to Springer who was making circles on the pad in front of him. She drummed her long elegant fingers on her own empty pad.
Prestman began shoving the handkerchief back in his pocket but couldn't get it all the way in. He kept shoving at it while he talked, his voice slightly slurred. "I took the case to help the firm. It's important to have big cases. So that people know we can take on the big boys...the oil companies. I'd think you young people would want to help the environment. You always say you do...."
Alex Hinkle had had enough. A new partner, he had just won a major arbitration netting the firm over a hundred thousand dollars in fees. He was damned if this old fart would fuck up his firm. He stood and leaned across the table towards Prestman. "Mr. Prestman, you are evading the issue. We'll take the case and keep it. And maybe even win it if you get off the team. The case isn't the issue, you are. You've got to retire before you blow it completely. Clear enough?" He sat down, looking around the table, having cleared that up.
Prestman stared at him, hand still poised at his pocket with the handkerchief. Then, stuttering, "How old are you?” Thirty? Twenty-nine? Why, I was winning in the Court of Appeals when your father was a boy. How dare you claim that I'm a problem..."
"Jesus Christ," Alex muttered in annoyance, eyes raised to the ceiling.
"And if you think you could do better, maybe you'd better think again...maybe you're not so good. Experience matters, you know. Experience. Knowing...knowledge about how people think, how they react..." He pulled the handkerchief out again, wiping his mouth. "It just doesn't come all at once...takes years...years."
Springer sighed. "Well, shall we vote...?"
"No," grunted Prestman, "I'm not done yet. You've already fixed it. I can see that. Goddamned kangaroo court. Made up your minds before I even spoke..."
"Not me," muttered old Greystone looking at his pad.
"Oh, cut the crap." Alex rose to his feet again.
"Alex," Joyce cautioned.
"Bullshit," interrupted Alex, again leaning towards Prestman. "Look, old man, you're off the case. Get it? You're off 'cause you're losing. Hell, you’ve been losing for years, and all of us have been pussyfooting around you 'cause you used to be pretty good. Well, that's ancient history now and you should grow up and face it. You're not going to fuck up this firm 'cause you're too stubborn to step aside. Understand?"
"Sit down, Hinkle," Springer said.
"Losing?" gasped Prestman. "Losing for years? Who the hell do you think you are? You weren't even born..."
"Jesus Christ, can it, will you?" snapped Alex, flushing at Springer's reprimand. "It's over, old man. Face it and take it like a man. Stop whining. Jesus, you sound like my senile grandfather." Hinkle looked about the table at the increasingly angry faces. "What's wrong with all of you? You sit like children afraid to tell the old man what's coming down. You call yourself lawyers. Come on, let's deal with this, not avoid it. We're about to be sued 'cause this senile coot won't let go. Well, I'm not about to..."
"Sit down, I said," ordered Springer, voice raising.
"You bastard," Joyce hissed at Alex. "Sit down and shut up."
Prestman shoved his chair further back and lifted his cane. Mopping his brow with shaking hands, grasping the cane, he began to shuffle towards the door. "Bathroom," he muttered, "Must go to bathroom..."
Hinkle sat down angrily, shaking his head. Suddenly Prestman stopped, bending over a little. "God," he muttered. To the horror of the attorneys, a pool of urine began to form at his feet, staining the thick white rug. "I'm sorry," he gasped, dropping the cane, tottering towards the booklined wall, hand out, reaching for support.
"Somebody help him," shouted Joyce, getting up and hurrying around the table.
"Quite all right...sorry," muttered Prestman, staggering towards the wall, reaching it at last, leaning against it, forehead resting against an obsolete volume of law. "Very sorry." The pool was getting larger, his suit pants dark with moisture. "Oh, God," he moaned, losing control of his bowels completely.
Joyce reached him, her hands on his shoulders from behind. "It's all right, Mr. Prestman, it's all right."
"God, God, God," he moaned, tears welling up in his eyes. He began to slide to the floor. "God, God."
"Call a doctor,"ordered Springer, voice shaky. "Now." He was moving around the table towards Prestman who had slid to the floor, the smell of his bowel movement strong.
The attorneys were all on their feet now, several leaving the room to get help, the others clustering in small groups, voices muted. No one stood with Hinkle.
Joyce knelt beside Prestman, using his tie to wipe his face which was dripping with sweat, her skirt stained with his urine. She couldn't speak. Springer stood beside them looking down, mouth tight. His eyes met Joyce's. She gave him a look of cold fury, then looked down at Prestman whose eyes were glazing.
"I'm fine. Fine," he muttered. She held his head level,feeling the warmth of his urine soak through her skirt. "Very sorry...sorry....mess." Prestman closed his eyes. Then he opened them wide at Springer and said quite clearly “Could you open the window, Peter? The window...?" Then he closed his eyes and died.
BOB PHELPS CAME OUT OF THE ELEVATOR, SWINGING his briefcase absently, instinctively heading through his waiting room towards the reception desk. He was thinking about the judge who had just denied his motion. Stein's voice from behind him stopped him dead.
"Counselor. Good morning."
Stein sat stiffly on one of the waiting room couches, a thick, battered briefcase between his spread legs. His face was grim.
Phelps moved back towards the couch, extending his hand. "Doctor. You're a half hour early."
"Yes. I have been waiting. I was unable to sleep adequately until I resolved certain questions. Consequently, I decided to wait on your premises in the hope you would return early. You have." He shook hands with Phelps and used the handshake to pull himself to his feet.
Phelps studied his face for a moment. "I heard what they did to Prestman. I'm sorry. Very sorry."
Stein's mouth tightened. "That is the matter I wish to consult about. Will you see me now?"
Phelps wanted to go through his mail first but could see that Stein, for Stein, was as near to hysteria as he would ever get. "Of course. Come in."
He led Stein past reception and down the hall to his office, dropping his briefcase on one of the client chairs, noting with a small sigh the ten or so phone slips piled on his desk. He shoved them and the mail to one side of the large, modern, walnut desk, fell into his leather swivel chair, and watched Stein slowly lower his bulk into the remaining client chair across the desk.
Stein grasped his briefcase in his lap. He was in a rumpled three piece suit, two buttons missing from the vest. His complexion, Phelps noted, was splotchy, his hands trembling slightly. Ill or just upset?
Stein cautiously looked about the room, noting book lined walls, sailing trophies, Bar Association certificates, bric-a-brac. Four pictures of Phelps' small sailboat, one of Karen, his still lovely wife, one of his son who was now in college.
Phelps leaned far back in his chair, his graying hair contrasting with his dark suit, eyes bright and worried. "How are you Doctor? Are you all right?"
"No. I am not." Stein blinked rapidly, jaws working. "I am beside myself with fury. I intend to seek vengeance. I intend...." He paused, swallowing, looking down at his hands clutching the briefcase on his lap.
Phelps toyed with a pen on his desk. "Prestman was in poor health, Doctor. He had had numerous strokes, apparently. Just because he had an attack during a partners meeting doesn't..."
"He was murdered," Stein snapped. "Pure and simple. Murdered."
"He was an impediment and an embarrassment. He was too stubborn to see to reason and remove himself from a lead position in an expensive and potentially disastrous case he had been foolish enough to commence."
"How do you know all this?"
"He so advised me. The firm wanted him off. He refused. They increased the stress upon him until he died. They murdered him. I seek revenge through your services."
"That's not murder."
Stein's eyelids drooped. "It is. Permit me to quote to you the appropriate definition. The unlawful killing of another human being with malice aforethought.'"
"The key word is "unlawful.'"
"Hence I am here. You are to supply that requirement utilizing legal research and ingenuity. I assume that an argument may be advanced that intentionally increasing levels of stress to cause death is murder, legally."
"Perhaps. More likely manslaughter or voluntary manslaughter. But damned hard to prove in a case like this. We'd have to demonstrate intent. Or gross negligence...I don't know."
"We must try. I assume it will be an expensive procedure ultimately requiring appellate decisions. It will cost how much?"
"Too much, Doctor. Let it go. You'd be taking on a major law firm, arguing before judges who will not be inclined to punish a law firm, and trying to prove intent to kill when the only living witnesses are opposing parties. And on top of this, you'd be probably trying to make new law, law which the judges who rule are not going to be very anxious to create since all of them have or will have law firms of their own."
Phelps leaned forward, elbows on the desk. He locked eyes with Stein. "Listen to me. I don't think you will succeed. No matter what it costs."
"You do not define success as I do. I care little for the ultimate result. I seek to humiliate, enrage, and harass the attorneys responsible for this obscenity. I will probably be dead before the higher courts rule. If I cause turmoil in their lives, I will have achieved a major purpose."
Phelps leaned back in his seat and thought for a few moments. Stein sat immobile, face set, hands clasped on the briefcase. At last Phelps said, "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord."
Stein blinked. "You are an atheist, Mr. Phelps, are you not?"
"Quite. But only God could afford the type of vengeance you seek. I assume you are the executor of Prestman's estate?"
"Was he wealthy?"
"Not as much as I would have expected. He did not make wise investments and had no life insurance."
"Give me a rough estimate."
Stein considered for a moment. "Approximately six hundred thousand dollars."
"Two nieces and a nephew. In Tucson."
"That money is theirs. You can't waste it on vengeance unless they agree."
"It is not wasted. Vengeance is a time honored and valued goal for most of mankind. I desire only what most of the human race has long considered a legitimate objective."
"Do the heirs?"
"I have not asked them. I am not yet appointed executor. Will you act as attorney for me in my capacity as executor?"
"The fees for that service?"
"Set by statute. About eighteen thousand dollars." Stein paled a little. "And that doesn't pay for any extraordinary services, such as commencing litigation against the Reynolds and Madison firm. Look, Doctor, why not let things lie for a few weeks and then see if you still want to commence litigation? It'll take four weeks to have you appointed executor in any event."
Stein slowly rose and walked to one of the windows in the office. The view of the Bay had long been supplanted by pale walls filled with square or rectangular openings through which professionals before small computer screens could be glimpsed. Stein leaned forward and looked up. A bit of sky was still visible.
He turned and faced Phelps. "It is unlikely the heirs will consent to pay for the litigation. They did not know Andrew...Mr. Prestman...would have no emotional connection with him. They will not instruct me to waste scarce resources for the vicarious enjoyment of revenge."
Stein's eyes widened. "Mr. Phelps, I am in no mood for the type of intellectual discourse that we are accustomed to engage in. My close friend has been exterminated by those who considered him too feeble to engage in litigation, too socially useless to be greatly missed. Well, they miscalculated gravely. I miss him."
Stein walked forward and leaned on Phelps' desk. "Do you understand me? I miss him. I now have a gap in my life which is intolerable. A man that many may have considered superfluous was irreplaceable to me and I miss him and I intend to do something about it."
He straightened and moved stiffly to the window. After a moment he leaned slightly forward, resting his head against the window pane. Embarrassed, Phelps opened and closed his pen, eyes downcast. Several minutes passed, neither man looking at each other. Phelps' intercom buzzed. He ignored it.
After a while Stein straightened up, pulled his vest down, and slowly moved back to his seat. He sat heavily. "How much will the litigation cost?"
Phelps met his steady gaze. "Impossible to know accurately. At least eighty thousand dollars. More likely close to three hundred thousand if it goes through appeal. Which it will. And your damages would be minimal. Even if you win you'd get almost nothing." Stein raised his eyebrows. Phelps smiled ironically. "For wrongful death you receive, as damages, the income that would have been earned by the deceased, loss of consortium, and that's about it."
"Loss of consortium? His wife is dead."
"Quite. And he was retired. No damages."
"Your law only grants monetary reward predicated on sexual and monetary usefulness?"
"You bet. If you had seen him die and you were his wife, some courts would give you some recovery. Sometimes. Not often."
"What about punitive damages?"
"What about them? Possible, but you'd have to prove true malice, not just negligence. Unlikely."
"And the district attorney? Must we seek only civil remedies? No crime has been committed?"
"Try. Call the DA. It's unlikely in the extreme they'd prosecute. Hell, they need a unanimous verdict to convict. We only need nine out of twelve jurors in a civil suit. Even then, it's unlikely in the extreme..."
"I do not care. We will file suit. As soon as possible. Seek punitive damages."
"You said the heirs will not consent..."
"They will if it costs them nothing. It will not. I will give money to the estate."
"Doctor, we're talking of three hundred thousand dollars..."
Stein stood up. "No, sir. We are not. We are speaking of Andrew Peabody Prestman who was murdered four days ago. Neither the state nor the heirs consider it worthwhile to obtain justice. I do and I will pay for it." He glared at Phelps for a long minute, then slowly sat down again.
Phelps sighed. "Doctor, I wouldn't feel right taking that kind of money from you..."
"You will either consent to take it or I will obtain other counsel. I do not seek charity."
Phelps flushed. "Will you ease up, damn it? I didn't say I was taking it for free. I'm not mad."
"Neither am I. But I will be if I allow this type of outrage to go unchallenged. I am wealthy and I have no heirs to speak of. I will use my resources for this goal. That is my choice and my business. Your business is to decide whether to accept the case and then to proceed with your usual professional skill. Will you accept the case?"
Phelps leaned back as far as his seat would allow, crossing his legs, drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair. They stared at one another. "He died in the meeting?"
"While they were haranguing him. While they were insisting that he withdraw or be forced to withdraw. While he was desperately and with futility defending his good name and his pride..."
"Stop this," interrupted Phelps. "I can't try this case with a client too emotional to even answer questions." He sighed, looking out the window. "Look, come back in two days. You'll be calmer and we can get the facts."
"Will you take the case?"
Phelps looked at Stein's intense face, eyes enlarged by the thick lenses. A long moment. "I'll take it, Doctor. But not for Prestman." Stein raised his eyebrows. "I'm taking it for you. For what it means to you. It's too late for Prestman."
Stein slowly leaned back in his chair, studying Phelps. Several moments passed while the men regarded each other. At last Stein stood. "That is satisfactory. I shall return Thursday at ten o’clock."
He briskly walked out looking back, briefcase still held to his chest. Phelps closed his eyes and shook his head wearily.
JEFFREY CONSIDERED THE TACTIC FOR OVER TEN minutes before he moved the knight. Even after he finished the move he remained silent, not telling Stein that he had completed his turn. Stein, reading a text at his desk chair, was oblivious. Jeffrey pondered taking the move back and thinking some more but decided Stein might have already seen him move and might be testing his honesty. Besides, it might be a good move.
"I'm ready," he called across the desk. Stein put his finger in the text and glanced up at the ornate pieces on the tooled leather board.
Ten seconds passed. Then he reached out and rapidly moved the rook to queen two, grunted, "check," and opened his book again.
The grandfather clock clicked and Stein's leather chair squeaked. Jeffrey studied the board, licking his lips. His chest felt tight. He moved his pawn. "Check," he muttered.
Stein's eyes widened as he read. He slowly turned his head and examined the board. His face remained impassive. Thirty seconds passed while the clock ticked. Stein moved his rook again, glanced at the boy and began to read again.
Jeffrey took a very long time this turn. His lips felt dry. His leg kicked the bottom of his chair in a rapid staccato. The clock struck the half hour. Jeffrey moved his queen. "Check," he said.
Stein carefully placed his leather bookmark in the text and lay the volume on the desk. He leaned over the board and studied it. "You have lost, Jeffrey."
Jeffrey leaned back in the chair, his large solemn eyes staring at the doctor. "I know."
Stein studied him a moment. "If you know, tell me how you have lost."
"Why? It doesn't matter. Now you won't get the color television. I lost." He blinked and looked at his tennis shoes swinging in front of his chair.
Jeffrey sighed and said in a despondent tone, “If I take your rook, you'll get checkmate with the knight in two moves. If I don't, you'll take my rook this turn and get me with the pawn in the next move. I've lost."
Stein leaned back and regarded the boy. "So, why did you take the bishop?"
Jeffrey sighed. "I made a mistake. Now I won't get the color television."
"That is true. But you played well up to that move."
Jeffrey shrugged, looking at the snake-like patterns on the Persian rug. He sighed and decided to try. "The black and white television may be a fire danger," he said, but his tone was already hopeless.
Stein was still leaning on the desk. "Oh?"
"Yes." He looked up at the Doctor now. "On television it said that some old televisions explode. In the middle of the night. Old televisions do that."
"Yes. In the middle of the night."
Stein leaned back, face impassive. "Perhaps we should discard the television then. Before it detonates."
Jeffrey thought rapidly. "The new televisions don't do that, you know. They're safe."
"Even safer would be to have no television at all, don't you agree?"
Jeffrey flushed. "No. No, I don't agree." He thought for a moment. "Perhaps I should sleep down there. So if it explodes I'll be able to warn you."
Stein might have smiled slightly. "That's quite courageous of you, Jeffrey."
"Thank you. Do you have a sleeping bag?"
"Yes. But it is old. Perhaps worm eaten. I do not think that is a solution. We must discard the set. Before it explodes."
Jeffrey studied his feet again. Things were going very badly.
Stein began putting the pieces away. "My patients will be very upset. Having no television set."
Jeffrey brightened a little. "You might lose some. Some important ones."
"Yes. I may lose much money." He looked at the chess pieces placed in their felt holders, each in a spot specially made for it. He ran his fingers along the smooth edge of the board. "Tomorrow is Tuesday, Jeffrey."
"Yes. Miami Vice."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Miami Vice is on Tuesdays. One of my favorite shows. It's about Miami. like a travel film, really. Educational, sort of."
"I don't know if my patients watch it."
Jeffrey leaned on the table, looking at the now empty board. "I bet they do. When they're at home."
Stein ruminated. "Do you think they miss it while they're here?"
Jeffrey decided to be careful. "Maybe. Maybe it's too educational."
"Oh." Stein leaned back. "On Tuesdays I normally take lunch out. At a restaurant."
"I've been to restaurants."
"Do you enjoy the experience?"
"I was considering shopping for a television for the patients after lunch tomorrow. I may need assistance in my selection. I know little of such things. Will you come to lunch and then to shop?"
Jeffrey looked down at his feet, unable to hide his grin of delight, hoping the Doctor would not see. "Sure. I'd like to help."
"Mrs. Santelli won't miss you?"
"Not if we're going to get a television. She misses the soaps a lot. She'd be happy."
"I see." Stein look worried. "The television must remain in the cellar, Jeffrey. I will not have it in my own habitation."
"Of course," Jeffrey hurriedly agreed, "down in the cellar. It's best there."
"Yes," Jeffrey agreed, both feet swinging with excitement.. He thought about mentioning big screen televisions, then decided not. He'd wait until they were at the store.
PHELPS WAS SITTING IN THE HALLWAY JUST OUTSIDE the Law and Motion Department waiting until the mid-morning recess was over. Prestman vs. Renolds & Madison was first on the calendar after recess and he wanted to go over the outline for his argument one more time. Cheryl, his paralegal, stood silently before him, quiet so that his concentration would not be disturbed. Stein sat on the bench next to him, staring straight ahead, hands clasped in his lap.
Around them was the constant buzz from twenty or thirty counsel conferring or negotiating, voices slightly nervous as they waited to appear before Bledsoe, a judge well known for his quick mind and acid tongue. Like all the other attorneys, Phelps felt the tension in his gut, the feeling of anticipation coupled with stage fright. He knew he would "smooth out," as he put it, the moment argument began. This was the tough time, the waiting. He pretended to read while, in reality, going over the opening lines he would give.
He felt Stein stiffen next to him and looked up. Springer and Colbum stood before them. Colbum smiled professionally.
"Morning, Mr. Phelps. Preparing, I see."
Phelps stood, offering his hand. "Mr. Colbum. I don't believe you've met Doctor Stein, the executor of the Prestman estate."
"No. Doctor." They shook hands, Stein remaining seated. Phelps smiled slightly at the doctor's implied contempt. "And this is Cheryl Briggs, my paralegal." Again Colbum shook hands.
Colbum kept his voice smooth. "You already know Mr. Springer, but I don't believe he has met Doctor Stein."
"I will not shake hands with you, Mr. Springer," Stein said. "We are enemies and I am not in the mood for civilized amenities with those I detest and hope to destroy."
Springer colored. "We are not enemies, Doctor. I was fond of Mr. Prestman. He was my teacher."
Stein grunted and stared straight ahead, face set. The lawyers exchanged a look. After a moment, Colbum smoothly said, "Phelps, may I have a few words with you. Regarding procedure?"
"Sure." Phelps knew there were no procedural questions possible at this stage of the proceedings. Colbum wanted to speak to him outside of Stein's hearing. The two men walked a little way down the hall while Springer chatted with Cheryl about law school and Stein glared across the hall at the blank wall.
Once out of hearing the two men stopped, looking back at their clients twenty feet down the hall. Their voices were soft, confidential. "Look, Bob, are you really going to push this thing? There aren't any damages. You know that. What can you win?"
"Punitive damages, Ed. We're asking for over a million."
"Sure. And I'm asking for the moon. Is this straight vengeance? Is that why Stein's doing it?"
"He's only the executor. The winnings go to the heirs."
"And they're insisting on this?"
"I can't chat about that, Ed. You know that. Privilege."
"Look, I don't want privileged matters, I just want to know what your clients want. You must know how embarrassing this is for the clients I represent. You think Prestman would want his firm embarrassed like this?"
Phelps stiffened. "Prestman's state of mind may have altered once they killed him. Shall we have a seance and ask?"
Colbum colored. "I knew Prestman, Phelps. He was a gentleman, a man not interested in public scandal. He would be heartbroken to see what's happening."
"I agree. Indeed, it did break his heart, didn't it? Literally."
Colbum sighed and studied the floor for a minute. "Bob, I liked your brief. I mean it. I think you'll lose, but it's a good brief. And I assume you'll appeal if you lose and this case will go on for years, costing the estate hundreds of thousands. I'd like to avoid that. Wouldn't you?"
"Yes. Have an offer?"
Colburn smiled slightly. "What do you want?"
"I have authority to offer the following: the sum of one million dollars will be deposited with a new foundation set up in Prestman's name to pay for care of the elderly. We can negotiate on the details. Further, a public apology and statement of responsibility will be printed for three weeks running in the legal newspaper."
"The firm will close for the day on the anniversary of Prestman's death for the next ten years running. Lastly, the firm will publicly reprimand, if not terminate, any and all attorneys responsible for Prestman's death, said responsibility to be based on mutual agreement of the parties, but to be, minimally, all members of the managing committee. Got that?"
Colburn had started to write the offer on a piece of paper on top of his attaché case clutched to his chest. He had stopped once Phelps mentioned the million dollar figure and merely stood regarding Phelps with a slight smile. Then, "I see. It is vengeance."
"Justice, Ed. Justice."
Colbum's smile became fixed, his eyes hardened. "See you in court, Bob." He turned and walked back to his client.
Phelps smiled to himself and signaled Cheryl and Stein to join him in the courtroom. Phelps noticed that Stein popped a small pill into his mouth as he stood to enter the courtroom.
Built in the early part of the century, the law and motion courtroom retained a shoddy elegance beloved by the attorneys. Judge Bledsoe presided behind a tall, ancient, oak bench flanked by an ancient set of United States and
California flags, always leaning slightly to the side. The court clerk and bailiff, idly chatting to each other as the
clerk leafed through the files, sat before the bench at smaller but equally ornate desks, dozens of tatty files piled
Until the bailiff called the court to order at nine o'clock, the lawyers would crowd the small spectator section, chatting and arguing while the judge sat on the bench muttering to himself, writing notes in the files that would be heard that day. Since the court session was usually restricted to procedural arguments, few clients attended, and there was a clublike aura in which the initiated were attending some regular and slightly boring membership function.
This feeling would change the moment the session began, for Judge Bledsoe was a stem taskmaster. The bailiff would stand, calling the court to order, and the attorneys would dutifully rise while Bledsoe, oblivious to the ritual, continued writing notes to himself in the files.
Ordered to be seated, the attorneys would remain silent while the cases. Were called to the bar by the clerk. The called attorneys would approach the bench, faces tight with tension, the spectator attorneys sitting silently enjoying the spectacle of their colleagues being badgered by the irascible but brilliant Bledsoe.
Situated before the clerk's desk were two podiums for argument, the less experienced attorneys using them as a shield, the experienced counsel freely strolling about behind the podiums as they pleaded their cases.
Judge Bledsoe frowned as his clerk barked, "Prestman vs. Renolds & Madison. Motion to dismiss. Counsel state their names for the record."
Reciting their names, Colburn and Phelps moved past the bar, each going to his respective podium. Springer was in the rear row of the courtroom, Cheryl and Stein in the first row of the spectator section. The mumbling among counsel usual during law and motion halted. Every attorney was interested in this one.
Bledsoe spoke first. "I have read the briefs, gentlemen. Ido not desire that either of you repeat arguments or law already presented. Do either of you have anything to add?"
Phelps sat at the small chair adjoining his podium, knowing Colburn, as the moving party, would have to argue first. Colburn opened his briefcase, pulling out his notes. “Yes, Your Honor, I would like to address some points made in my opponent's brief."
Phelps opened his pen and jotted down the predictable argument made by Colburn, noting that Bledsoe, chin on his fist, was not even taking notes. Bledsoe gazed at Colburn, his face impassive. Colburn, also noting that Bledsoe was not writing, began to increase the volume of his voice, hoping to make an effect. He knew that he was either winning or losing big. Or the judge had already made up his mind. With Bledsoe, one was never sure.
"So, Your Honor, if this matter is to be allowed to proceed, then any and all employers, indeed, any and all businesses, will find it too dangerous to fire any employee. Are we to hamper every employer like this? Are we to have a medical examination of every employee before we reprimand him or her?"
"Wrongful death, as a cause of action, was not meant to encompass those acts normal for everyday business, but only reckless disregard of the safety or well-being of another."
"We must be able to reprimand or we may as well shut our doors. It's as simple as that. No one is happy with the fact that Mr. Prestman's health was such that even a mild reprimand caused more stress than he could withstand. Does that make my clients murderers? Of course not, and opposing counsel cannot find a single case to the contrary."
"He extrapolates from cases involving outrageous acts, acts calculated to cause stress. A landlord who leaves deadcats on the doorstep of a rental cannot be compared to a partners’ committee seeking to have an attorney retire. Neither the cases nor common sense allow it. The matter must be dismissed."
Colburn paused, studying Bledsoe's blank face. He considered a moment, then softly said, "Thank you," and sat.
Bledsoe did not turn his head still resting on his chin, but his eyes moved to Phelps who was standing to argue. "Counsel? I wish to have you address the issues so ably put by Mr. Colburn."
"I intend to, Your Honor. First, let us be precise as to the issue at bar. We are not speaking of acts normal in the course of business. We are speaking of reckless and allegedly intentional attempts to pervert those acts so that they cause injury and, perhaps, death to the victim."
"It is analogous to the misuse of any tool. A hammer is not, in and of itself, a dangerous weapon. In the hands of a ruthless killer, it becomes a weapon. Likewise, a reprimand is and of itself a required tool of an employer. Perverted into a brazen and vicious attack on an individual known to be in poor health, it is an act of murder..."
Bledsoe's voice was hard. "Do you have evidence of this malicious intent, counsel?"
Phelps straightened his back. "Of course not, Your Honor. They have brought this motion before we can conduct discovery. The point I make is that, as a matter of law, we should be entitled to explore their motivations to determine if a cause of action lies. We should not be shut out of court based on the bland assurances of goodwill promulgated by Mr. Colburn."
Bledsoe moved his eyes to Colburn. "Well, Counsel? Why should I deny them access to discovery? Do you not agree that they should be entitled to explore these possibilities?"
Colburn rose to his feet. "No, Your Honor, they should not be allowed to go fishing for any iota of evidence they can find. If you allow this type of action, every business will be subjected to identical assaults after every firing..."
"Every firing that causes death, Your Honor," broke in Phelps. "And any such firing deserves this kind of exploration. It's not as if Mr. Prestman was not obviously ill. If you had seen him..."
"I did," interrupted the court. "I did. And I can understand why the firm had to remove him from the case. Do you not agree they had a duty to their clients in that regard?"
"I do not contest removing him from the case. I contest the public humiliation utilized to do it."
"Do you know if they attempted to privately remove him?"
"How can I? No discovery has taken place."
Colburn raised his hand eloquently. "I can represent to the court that the managing committee did try to privately persuade Mr. Prestman to resign."
Phelps' voice became heated. "With all due respect, I need some testimony under oath to verify that. And to jump from a private meeting to wholesale public humiliation is not necessarily justified. Let us explore the facts. If the facts don't support the cause of action, they should then bring a motion for summary judgment. As a matter of law, we should have a right to explore the facts."
"As a matter of law," Colbum hastily argued, "they would have to prove malice. How can they possibly do that when private persuasion was first tried?"
"When private persuasion failed they became malicious, simple as that. Your Honor, we have a right to conduct discovery. They wish to shut our case down before it has begun."
"Thank you, gentlemen. That is enough."
"Your Honor..." began Colburn.
"I have heard enough. Motion denied. But Mr. Phelps..."
"Yes, Your Honor?"
"If you fail to find evidence of true malice, I will welcome a motion for summary judgment from opposing counsel. This case concerns me greatly. It is a dangerous one. I am not fond of your cause of action."
"Neither are we, Your Honor . Nor of the facts that led to it."
Bledsoe blinked at Phelps, face hostile. "Very well. Next case, Clerk."
Phelps took a deep breath, pivoted, widened his eyes at Cheryl, and packed his briefcase to get out before the judge changed his mind. Cheryl and Stein rose and moved down the crowded aisle towards the door. Springer sat in the last row chewing his lip, staring straight ahead. As Phelps moved past him to the door Springer glared at him. Phelps grinned and opened the rear door. So far so good.
JEFFREY PUSHED THE BUTTON WHILE THE SALESMAN smiled professionally. Suddenly there appeared a small black and white rectangle in the upper right hand corner of the large screen. The rectangle portrayed a program from a different channel than the one on the large screen. Two channels on the screen at once.
“This allows you to scan alternate channels while still viewing the main program," the salesman proudly explained. "Our newest innovation. It's quite popular."
Jeffrey pushed the red button and the main program changed. The rectangle's program did not. Jeffrey pushed the black button and the rectangle's program changed. He pushed both buttons simultaneously and the television flashed rapidly through the various channels, a brilliant display of oscillating colors with a small pulsating black box in the right hand corner. Jeffrey smiled.
The salesman's smile became strained. "You have to be careful. You don't want to break it."
Jeffrey kept staring at the screen, his smile unchanged. "It's electronic. It doesn't wear out." With some reluctance he pushed another button and the glass screen went blank.
Jeffrey looked about and realized that Stein had moved to the far side of the display room. The salesman discovered that Stein had left at the same moment and immediately lost interest in Jeffrey. He took back the remote control device, nodded absently at Jeffrey, and moved over to an obese woman who was staring at an even larger set.
Jeffrey slowly walked over to Stein who was standing in the record section before a life-size poster of a rock star. The performer was pictured at a concert, arms over his head, electric guitar in one hand, screaming at the spotlights which flared down upon him. He wore black leather pants and boots, no shirt over his thin, smooth, chest, a swastika armband and a German World War II infantry helmet from which his long hair emerged. Sweat glistened down his arms, studded leather cuffs wrapped his wrists. His eyes were closed with the effort of his scream. Angled across the bottom of the poster, in bright red, were the words, "Hellcats from the Pit."
Jeffrey walked up to Stein and together they stared at the poster. Stein's face was set. Jeffrey hesitantly said, "I don't like them much. They only have two albums out."
Stein paused before replying. "He is...nineteen? Twenty?"
"I don't know."
"A child. Born fifty years after them. A child."
"Fifty years after who?"
Stein looked at Jeffrey. "After the Nazis, of course. To whom else could I be referring?"
Jeffrey considered the poster again. "He is not a Nazi. He's a rock singer."
Stein smiled grimly. "No. He is not a Nazi. He could not be."
Jeffrey looked up at Stein, eyes wide. "Why?"
"Because they would have exterminated him, Jeffrey. He tries to portray wildness and freedom, does he not? Or what he, with his myopic vision, considers freedom. No, they would not have allowed him to exist."
Jeffrey continued looking at Stein. "My dad says that he wishes all rock stars would be exterminated."
Stein flushed. "Your father should not use such language. He is being flippant about matters beyond his cognition."
Jeffrey licked his lips. "Cognition?"
"To know historical fact is not necessarily to be aware of the reality that the facts create. Your father would not use such vocabulary if he..." Stein stopped and closed his eyes.
He sighed. He opened his eyes and looked at the boy. He smiled slightly. For a moment the old man and the boy looked at each other.
Stein straightened his shoulders. "I am becoming maudlin. It is because an old friend just died. Forgive me."
"That means sentimental to the extreme. Did you discover a device appropriate to our purpose?"
"The salesman dumped me the moment you walked away. I'm a little boy. He knows I can't buy it."
Stein looked annoyed. "But you will make the decision. Tell him that."
"He won't believe me. I'm too young."
Stein thought for a moment. "I will advise him that you will decide."
"That would work. Will you do that?"
"I will. Follow me."
Stein leading, they walked in single file to the far end of the display room where the salesman was talking on the phone. They stood before him while he spoke. He was apparently answering questions about what sets were on sale. He held up one finger indicating he would soon be off. They both remained standing there staring at him.
He grimaced and turned slightly away, not wishing to confront their eyes. Both stood silent. He quickly finished his conversation, hung up, and smiled at Stein. "Well, sir, have you made up your mind?"
"I herewith appoint this boy as my agent for that purpose. Does that satisfy you?"
"I do not wish to personally participate in selecting which instrument of inanity will be deposited in the cellar of my abode. This young gentleman possesses both the willingness and the expertise to make the selection. I will supply the requisite funds. Do you understand that?"
"The boy decides?"
"Very good. We have communicated. I will be over in the book section. Please finish this transaction within ten minutes." He turned to Jeffrey. "I trust you will not waste my resources?"
"Very well. Good day, gentlemen."
The salesman watched Stein stroll across the room. He looked down at Jeffrey and winked.
Jeffrey did not smile. "I want to see your General Electric and Sanwa big-screens as well as your Emerson Colortron. Please hurry."
The salesman stopped smiling, pointed to the row of sets nearby and muttered, "let's go."
The soccer field was halfway between the store and Stein's clinic. Both teams were used to the old man coming down to see them and were not surprised when he and Jeffrey stopped on the way back from the store. School was over for the day and the teams on the field were the local high school's varsity versus the junior varsity, both in red jerseys and white shorts. The varsity dominated.
A few parents and several girl friends stood on the sidelines, occasionally shouting encouragement to the teenagers running and panting on the field. The junior varsity couch and his substitutes paced the sideline on which Stein and Jeffrey stood. He appeared beside himself with exasperation.
"Damn you, Alsop, move it! Move your ass! Rodriguez, what the hell are you doing? Cover him! Cover him!"
He strode up and down the sidelines, arms flailing, his substitutes following his quick stride with worried looks on their young faces. Occasionally he would bellow, "Forward! Out! Endlinger substitute in!" and a boy would run onto the field, while the replaced player jogged to the sideline.
Across the field an identical scene transpired with slightly bigger boys dutifully following an equally emotional adult. The girls on the sidelines sat huddled together, pointing and giggling at one boy or another. The air was hot and still, the smell of new-mown grass strong.
Stein and Jeffrey stood side by side, Stein with his eyes closed, lips moving slightly. Jeffrey looked at him. "What are you doing, Uncle?"
Stein opened his eyes. "I'm playing a game, Jeffrey."
Stein hesitated. "I am attempting to memorize the numbers on the jerseys and then repeat them back, reversed. It's a test of memory."
"How did you do?"
"I was mediocre. I failed after nine jerseys."
Jeffrey considered that. Then he examined the field for a few minutes and closed his eyes. He opened them and stared at the players. Then he sighed and studied his feet.
Stein asked, "Well?"
"I'm not very good at it. I couldn't do more than four."
Stein's face was impassive. "Oh." He looked at the sky and may have smiled. Several minutes passed. "It is a difficult game. It takes practice."
"You're smarter than me. I can't do it."
Stein looked at him. The boy stared at the field. "It is not clear that I am more intelligent than you." The boy grunted in derision but said nothing. "Neither of us has conducted any tests to determine your intelligence in comparison to mine. Mine is fading." He paused, then said more softly, "due to my age."
Jeffrey looked up at him, eyes huge. "You mean you were even smarter?"
Stein looked down at him. "I believe so."
The boy gazed at the field again. "Jeeze."
Stein smiled now. Then he remembered what Prestman had said and his smile faded and his face darkened.
Oblivious to the change Jeffrey said, "I think I'd like to be canned laughter."
Stein's eyes widened. "I beg your pardon?"
"You know. What they have on television. When you're supposed to laugh. I think it's neat that dead people are still laughing. I mean, here they're dead and no one remembers them, but they're still laughing. That's all that's left. I think that's neat."
They studied the field together. Stein's voice was curt. "Their laughter has been perverted and exploited for commercial purposes."
"I don't know what that means."
"It is used to make money."
Jeffrey's voice softened. "You told me it was to make people laugh."
"To make the herd instinct compel laughter, yes."
"Well, that doesn't seem bad. Dead people making people laugh. That sounds all right."
"Not to me. I would be outraged if my laughter was frozen in time and then attached to idiotic trivia to compel unwilling laughter of the masses. My laughter should not be made obscene."
Jeffrey kicked one foot with the other. "Well, you don't laugh very much anyway." He sighed and watched the game. So did Stein.
About five minutes later one of the smaller boys suddenly fell onto the field, his screams filling the air. He rolled on the ground clutching his leg. The other boys quickly gathered around, keeping a distance, while the coaches and referees ran over and knelt beside the boy.
"He has a broken femur," mumbled Stein
"Why don't you run out and fix it?"
Stein smiled grimly. "I have no wish to be named a defendant in a lawsuit, thank you. Besides, it is his own fault. He was out of position."
They watched in silence while a stretcher was carried out onto the field. Jeffrey wanted to go closer but Stein held his shoulder. "No. Let them remove him. The game will soon commence again."
"Does it happen often?"
"Breaking bones like that? Legs?"
Stein did not answer immediately. He was looking down at the grass between his scuffed shoes, face thoughtful. Does it happen often?
Germany. Munich. 1935. Third to last game of the season. University of Mannheim, the visiting team with a better record than Stein's team, much better. The University at Munich would have to win both this game and the next two to equal the record and make the playoffs. The stands were already filled two hours before the game, the coach in his small office in the back arguing with the assistant couch about tactics.
The tension in the locker room mirrored the rear office. Eric, the team captain, sat back to back to Stein, both putting on their socks, both breathless with anticipation, both trembling slightly with adrenaline. The whole locker room was muted, soft mumbling between teammates, occasional scraping of cleated shoes on cement. Most of the college men were sitting fully suited up, staring at their hands or feet, knees vibrating with tension.
"You will not expose yourself,” Eric was mumbling to Stein. “You will stay close on my left. At all times. You must."
Stein did not answer, carefully folding the white knee socks down over his powerful, hairy calf . His dark eyes narrowed as he stared at his knee, badly gashed from the last game, only partly scabbed over. They had got him then. He had been blindsided. It would not happen again.
Unconsciously he flexed his powerful biceps, pulled in his stomach. His teammates called him "The Bear." The ones who liked him. The others called him "The Jew." But not to his face. Not if they wanted to keep standing.
Eric turned his head slightly, still pulling on his sock. "Gerald? You hear me? We will not have you exposed again. You must stay in close."
"And how will I score?" Stein hissed. "Why be playing if I cannot score?"
"You will score. You are good enough to shoot from formation. You need not..."
Stein pivoted on the bench, straddling it, facing Eric's back. "No. I will not. Let them try to stop me. They can go to hell."
Eric stopped pulling on the sock and sat sidewise on the bench, head turned to Stein. "Gerald, you cannot fight them all. Not all the time. They will really hurt you this time. I know it."
Stein's eyes narrowed still more. "How?"
Eric's eyes flickered to the coach's office then returned to Stein. "I know."
Eric leaned towards Stein, his blond head almost against his. "I heard the coach talking. With Hoffman. The dean was warning him."
Stein looked back over his shoulder at the office. Heated voices were still coming from it. He moved his head back to Eric. "What was said? Tell me."
Eric bit his lip. "The dean said you must not play. For your own safety. He said he had received telephone calls.
Threatening calls. About...about the Jew team. That's what they call us."
Stein began to breathe heavier but said nothing. Eric continued, voice even softer. "The coach told him we needed you. Told him..." Eric grinned despite himself "...told him that the one Jew on the team was not going to make us a Jew team but could make us a winning team." Eric squeezed Stein's shoulder, still grinning. "And remember? The coach did not like you at first. Did I not tell you he would change? Did I not tell you?"
Stein nodded and squeezed Eric's shoulder back. He noted the tanned, smooth skin, the slim but powerful body.
A true Aryan, he thought. Far more Aryan than that runt Hitler. And his friend. He looked down at his hands hanging limply between his knees.
Eric studied him a moment more, then pivoted on the bench and finished pulling on his sock. "They have plans, Gerald, to hurt you badly. You are the last, you know."
"Last Jew on any team. That's why they think of you so often. You must stay in close. We will protect you."
Stein looked back over the rest of his teammates. He examined them. "Yes," he thought, "most would protect me. Most. But not all. And less every day."
He put on his shoes, fingers trembling a little. In another year he would be out of here, in medical, school. He only had to hang on one more year. And medical school in Switzerland or the United States was becoming more attractive every day. If he could convince his father.
His father taught at the Medical School of Munich, had taught there for twenty-one years now. He wanted Stein to study under him, to intern under him. The Nazis would be voted out in the next election, he claimed. It was an accident, a freak of history.
Stein studied his knee, his finger slowly caressing the four-inch gash. The forward from Heidelberg had carefully placed his cleated foot on his knee and ripped it across while Stein was on the ground, pinned under the goalie. He had smiled as he did it. Stein had to he removed from the game, gasping in pain. Fifteen minutes later Stein was back on the field but the forward had been replaced. After the game Stein had been unable to find him.
Stein looked up as the clinking of cleats on concrete stopped before him. Karl stood there, hand bandaged from the last game, sweat already glistening on his smooth, bulging legs. "You will stay in close, Bear. I will be on your rear for all scoring. Do not lose me."
Stein leaned hack and stared at Karl's square face. Karl seemed angry. So was Stein. "No. You do not have to change your playing. I can protect myself."
Karl grunted in derision, Like last week? Like at Berlin two weeks ago?"
"Do not change your tactics..."
Karl put his massive hand on Steins shoulder. "This is war, Bear. War. They call us the Jew team."
Stein flushed. "I am a Jew."
"I am not. I do not like being called a Jew."
Stein slowly stood. They were about equal in size, but Karl was a wrestler, had qualified for the Olympics. Nevertheless... "I am a Jew. Are you insulting me?"
Karl's eyes narrowed for a moment. Then he grinned. "You are more than a Jew. You are my teammate. I will not allow them to hurt you, Bear. You are...my teammate." He blushed and turned towards the rest of the team which was sitting and watching. "Do you hear? Bear is one of us. He will not he hurt. Understood?"
A mumbling of assents, none very enthusiastic. Someone mumbled something about Jews, but Stein couldn't tell
which. Karl also heard it. "We will protect him or I will punish the one who does not? Understood?" He glared around, slapped Stein on the back, and rolled out the door to the bathroom.
Stein remained standing. "I do not need protection. I will take care of myself." His voice sounded shaky even to himself. No one answered. He sat down and began putting on his shoes.
It was the second period before they got him. Indeed, until then the game had been played with scrupulous fairness, almost no fouls, none involving Stein. By the second period he was fully concentrating on the game, relaxed, no longer on guard. He had scored once, had stolen the ball four times, and was taking greater and greater chances.
It was as he angled for a score near the Mannheim goal that the three converged on him. The one in front, number twelve, suddenly slammed his elbow into Stein's kidney while number four tripped him from behind. As Stein hit the ground number three slammed his cleated foot into the small of his back.
Grunting in pain, Stein twisted over onto his back, grabbing at the foot that was poised above his stomach for a second blow. His fingers missed the foot and it slammed down on his groin. He gasped and gurgled, nausea overcoming him, the taste of vomit in his mouth. One or two more blows fell but he hardly felt them due to the agony in his groin. His vision blurred as he lay there rolling about, desperately trying to get his breath. When the roaring in his ears faded the first sound he heard was Eric's angry shouting.
Eric was standing before the referee, several teammates behind him, "It was on purpose," he yelled. "I saw it. They were kicking him on the ground."
The referee was standing with his hands on his hips looking at his own feet, lips pursed. "I saw nothing. He fell. That's all I saw."
Eric began jumping up and down in exasperation. "They attacked him! Attacked him!"
Stein felt himself being helped to his feet. Karl had taken his shoulders from behind, had lifted him. Stein wobbled a little, then fell on his knees and vomited on the grass. Karl stood next to him, his hand on his shoulder. Eric was furious, screaming at the referee who was walking away.
The Mannheim team stood huddled across the field looking on, talking together in subdued voices. Stein's teammates also stood about twenty feet from Eric, Karl and Stein. Stein rose up breathing heavily, wiping vomit from his chin.
From the sidelines their coach signaled for Stein to come out. Stein shook his head in the negative, still unable to speak.
The coach signaled again, his gestures becoming emphatic. Stein studied his feet, hands on his hips, not moving.
"You must go out," Karl said, his hand still on Stein's shoulder. "The coach says out."
"No. He will not put me back in."
Eric took both of Steins shoulders in his hands, leaning towards him, voice shaky with emotion. "Go to the side. We will avenge you."
Stein's eyes bulged. "I will avenge myself. I will not go out." He spit on the grass, trying to rid his mouth of the taste of vomit.
The rest of the team looked on, faces blank. After a moment's hesitation, Eric ran over to the side, to the coach, leaving Karl and Stein standing there, the rest of the team slowly walking over to them.
"Did you see that?" Karl asked his teammates.
No one answered. Karl looked at them, eyes narrowing. "No one saw?"
They looked down or away. Karl grunted in contempt and examined the Mannheim team standing across the field. "Stay close, this time, Bear. Do you hear me?"
"I will kill them."
Karl grinned. "No. We will kill them." He laughed and watched Eric running back towards them.
Eric panted. "He says that if they go for you again he will take you out. That you are not to fight back." He looked at Karl. "No one is to fight back."
Karl grinned and studied the Mannheim team. Stein was staring at the ground. The pain in his groin was fading but his back was cramped. He stretched as he watched the Mannheim team run back onto the field.
Stein and his friends stood silent, their teammates speaking in undertones among themselves.
Eric said softly, "Stay close together. You understand, Bear?"
"I will kill them."
Eric grabbed his arm. "This is a game. No one kills anyone. I'll kick you out myself. Understand?"
Stein looked down and did not answer. Karl kept grinning, hands on his hips.
Eric sighed. "Let's go."
The second time they nearly broke Stein's leg. Number three intentionally fell in front of the referee across the field, screaming loudly to get his attention. While all eyes were on him, while Stein was slowly running over towards the fallen player, number twelve, a big burly blond, slipped his leg between Stein's legs and twisted so that Stein's knee was caught.
Stein desperately contorted his body to avoid tearing his knee joint, hitting the ground hard on his shoulder. Number twelve was thirty feet off by the time Stein staggered to his feet. Karl ran up to Stein.
Stein was staring at his teammate, Frederick, the player who had been closest. He hadn't warned Stein though he must have seen number twelve setting up in position. Frederick looked away, muttering something unintelligible about Jews.
Karl came up to Stein. "I saw. Number twelve. How is your leg?"
Stein did not answer, moving around on it, face flushed. There were tears in his eyes. He did not want Karl to see. Karl was still grinning, eyes blinking rapidly.
Stein didn't really plan to retaliate as he did. In a way he lost control, acted without conscious thought. One moment number twelve was moving with the ball, playing properly for the moment, maneuvering towards Stein's left to set up for a pass. The next moment number twelve was lying on the ground staring in horror at the compound fracture in his leg, a very white femur protruding though a bleeding tear in his muscular thigh. He began to scream.
Stein watched the blood pulse from the ripped skin, staining the blue sock dark red, players converging from all parts of the field. Then, still as if in a dream, he walked up to number twelve and kicked him in the head, connecting with his chin, feeling the teeth shatter under the force of his blow.
Someone ran into the small of his back at full speed. He twirled, the attacker fell off and hit the ground. Another blue jersey was in front of him. Instinctively he lashed out with his foot, connecting with a groin, watching the boy crumble.
He was grinning now, could feel his face grinning. But it was somehow divorced from him, not really him. He watched himself grab number three by the hair and lift him off the ground and whirl him about, the screams becoming almost deafening, blows falling upon Stein but somehow not affecting him.
He saw Karl laughing as he lifted a Mannheim player off the ground, both hands around his neck, and began shaking him back and forth, the boy's fists flailing away at Karl's massive chest.
Stein saw Eric on his knees, blood pouring from a split lip, a much larger player in blue jersey raining blows onto his bent head. And Stein saw Frederick, his own teammate, skillfully and expertly maneuver to Stein's side and slam his foot into Stein's knee, bringing him down onto the grass where Stein was submerged by blows, kicks, and screaming players. He lost consciousness before he could rise again.
Elva and his parents were in the hospital room when he came to. Hearing them speaking in muted tones, he moved his bandaged head to the left so that he could see them, felt a wave of nausea, then blacked out again.
When next he awoke it was night. A small night light illuminated the room. Elva sat in an overstuffed chair someone had moved into the room, her head on her chest, asleep. A book lay open on her lap. Her thick, brown hair, cut short now, spilled over her lowered face. Her full breasts rose and fell evenly. She looked very pretty, very peaceful. He recognized the book as one of her chemistry texts.
He slowly moved his hands and felt his bandaged head. He had followed his father on his rounds since die age of six. He could diagnose an injury as well as most interns. He carefully felt the various bandages and wounds, flexed this and that muscle, making a mental inventory of his injuries. A concussion, two or more broken ribs, one broken finger, a sprained and possibly broken ankle. Several contusions and lacerations, none serious. He was hungry.
Careful to remain quiet, he slowly pulled himself to the head of the bed so he could sit up. When he twisted slightly to the right he involuntarily grunted in pain. Elva immediately awoke. She parted her lips but said nothing. They stared at each other for a long moment. He could see she had been crying. She reached over and put her hand on the bed.
"You shouldn't move. Try to lie still."
He licked his dry lips and finished pulling himself to the sitting position he wished. Shaking her head in exasperation, smiling despite herself, she helped pull him up. As she wedged a pillow behind his back, he grabbed her hand and held it tight. She blinked rapidly, looking down at their hands.
Then, slowly, she bent at the waist and kissed his hand joined to hers. He swallowed and held tighter. "Where are my parents?"
"Your father's downstairs. Sleeping in the resident's room. Your mother went home to look after your brother."
What time is it?"
"I don't know." She looked at her wristwatch, her loose sleeve falling back on her arm as she raised it. He stared at her smooth arm. He loved her female smoothness, her softness. "Four in the morning."
He nodded, but that caused a pulsating, throbbing pain at the back of his head. He moaned. She took his uninjured hand in both of hers, gazing at him with wet eyes. After a minute or so the pain subsided.
"How are my parents?"
She tried to smile and shrugged. "You know them."
His face became grimmer. His father would be furious. Embarrassed. His mother would be crushed, hurt. Yes, he knew them. She saw his face and squeezed his hand harder.
"Go to sleep, my darling."
"I'm not sleepy," he protested. "I'm hungry." Then he closed his eyes and was instantly asleep.
The next day his father paced the room, dressed in white, his stethoscope flopping about, his face flushed with agitation. Elva and his mother were seated, both studying their hands clasped in their laps. "You act like an animal. You lower yourself to their level. Is it any wonder you are here, any wonder that you are punished?"
Stein was staring at the ceiling, mouth tight. He did not answer.
"And now you are expelled. Expelled! Without a degree! How are you to go to medical school? Our plans are ruined. Ruined by your temper, by your immaturity!" He turned to Stein's mother, "Theo, do you know what they call your son? What his nickname has become? Bear! they call him after an animal! Our son!" She looked down and said nothing. He put his hands behind his back and continued pacing.
"I have called the dean of the medical school. Of the graduate school. They can do nothing. They are sorry, but they can do nothing. And you know what?"
Stein moved his eyes to his father who was still pacing about the room.
"I do not blame them. Why should they want a ruffian, a hooligan in their college? Even if he is my son..."
"You are right, father," Stein snapped. "You are right. I should let them attack me. Should let them try to cripple me. I should act as a coward. Act like they say a Jew acts..."
"That's not the point..." his father shouted, standing before the bed, arms waving.
"I am going to America. To Uncle Alex. In San Francisco."
His father stopped speaking, mouth still open. Slowly he dropped his arms to his sides. Then his shoulders slumped. Stein heard his mother begin to cry but he did not look at her.
"I telephoned Uncle Alex this morning. He says he knows the dean of admission at the College of San Francisco. He says the dean is Jewish, will understand. They will finish my education, then, if I pass their test..."
His father looked up, mouth tight. "You speak English poorly. Far too poorly..."
"I will learn.”
Except for his mother's soft crying, the room was silent.
Behind his father Stein could see Elva staring at him, eyes dry, eyes wide. He returned his gaze to his father.
"You are running away. You are overreacting..."
Stein grunted in derision and threw off the blanket. "Overreacting? Look!"
"You brought that on yourself!"
Stein did not answer, merely looked away. Silence except for his mother's sobs. Finally, voice softer, his father asked, "And Alex...will agree?"
Stein nodded, still looking away.
"Can you get an exit visa?"
Stein smiled grimly. "Uncle Alex said he can get one for me. He knows someone at Krupps, apparently. If I act quickly..."
"No," his father's voice was brisk, "No, you must stay until you heal. And the next election may…”
"There will be no more elections, father."
His father's face flushed. "Do not interrupt me! Remember who I am! You need not act like an American simply because you will study there. They will ruin you, I am sure. You will become lazy."
He swallowed and looked down, hands absently playing with the stethoscope. "You will not even write. You will ignore...your mother. I know you."
Stein looked at his mother who was wiping her eyes. She had gained weight over the past two years, had aged. She seemed much older than her fifty years. "I will write."
He looked directly at his father. "Uncle Alex says he could get all of us out. It might take some money, but all of us...and Elva if she wants to go. Uncle Alex says that it would take about two months for you. I could leave now and prepare a home in..."
"No!" His father's face was rigid. "They will not drive me out. I! Where do you think their reputation for pulmonary..."
"Father, they do not care..."
"They will not drive me out, I tell you! Never!" His breathing was shaky and he glared at his son. Without another word he whirled and left the room.
Stein saw that his mother was smiling and crying at the same time. "He is just like you, you know. You are both so stubborn." She took his uninjured hand in both of hers, her tears falling on their hands. "He will not leave. He will fight. And you fight them even though they outnumber you." Her smile broadened. "My men are like that." She stood there crying. Stein swallowed, looking at Elva who remained seated staring at them.
His mother walked over to her purse on the chair. She did not bother repairing her tearstained face, simply picked up the purse and left the room, following his father.
Elva remained seated, looking at him.
He sighed and leaned back on the pillows. His head ached. "Elva, you must come with me.”
He closed his eyes. He had known that would be her answer. Her voice was soft, low. "It is not so bad for me. I am a woman." He opened his eyes, head back on the pillow, and said nothing. She looked down at her hands again.
"My mother...I cannot leave her. You know that. With father dead. And I have only six more months before my degree..."
"They will throw you out before then. You are almost the last Jew now."
She smiled faintly. "They do not notice women, Gerald. I do not think they will throw me out."
He stared at the ceiling. 'You will not come?" She did not answer. "After graduation? You could bring your mother...."
"You know she will not leave. She says she is German, not Jewish. My father died in the War, she says, so they will not hurt us."
He closed his eyes, a bitter smile on his face. She saw it and looked down. "Yes, Gerald, I know. But I cannot convince her to leave. You know that."
He licked his lips, his throat felt tight. "And us?" She did not answer. He turned his eyes to her. "I must leave, Elva. You know that."
Sobbing, she rushed to the bed, throwing her arms around him. He winced in pain as she squeezed his ribs, but was careful to make no noise. "I know! I know!" she gasped, shoulders shaking. "You must leave. They hate you. They hate you because you're smarter than they are. Stronger." She gasped for breath, her whole body shaking. "Please, please go, my love. Go!" She straightened and, without looking back, rushed from the room.
Stein lay in the bed, staring at the ceiling, swallowing hard. He would not cry. He would not. He would not let the Nazis have that satisfaction.
"Uncle?" Jeffrey was pulling on his hand, looking up at his face, concerned. "Are you all right?"
Stein shook his head to clear it but held onto the boy's hand. "Yes. I am fine. Fine. What were you saying?"
Jeffrey stared at him for a long moment. "I asked if they broke legs a lot in soccer."
Stein smiled grimly. "A lot?" He paused. "I've seen it happen before, Jeffrey. Yes. It can be a dangerous game. Let us go back now. I am tired."Jeffrey nodded and, hand in hand, they walked back to Stein's clinic.
MRS. SANTELLI KNOCKED ON STEIN'S STUDY DOOR SHORTLY AFTER Jeffrey went to sleep that night. It was ten-thirty and Stein was rereading Tolstoy, deeply concerned. He had made margin notes when he had first read Anna Karenina and, since he reread the book about every five years, he had added to the margin notes at each reading. As he sat there in the darkened book lined room, he could think of no new thoughts to add to the already crowded pages. More evidence of his decline. He sat there sadly staring at the page.
At her knock he grunted in annoyance and slowly put his bookmark back in the volume. He turned the light on the floor lamp up another notch, then pushed himself up from the leather easy chair, moved around the small writing table, and walked to the study door.
Mrs. Santelli was still dressed from dinner, full length, dark red dress, high heeled shoes, jewelry. She always dressed formally for dinner, as did Stein. Stein had changed into a dark green dressing gown, and slippers.
"I know you don't like to be disturbed, Doctor. But it's about Jeffrey."
"May I come in?"
He hesitated, then nodded, moving back to his chair. She entered, looking around the small room, crowded with volumes everywhere, several chairs about a writing table, English racing prints on the few spaces on the wall not taken by bookshelves. Thick, velvet curtains now closed.
No television, no radio, no stereo. She sat on one of the small, straight backed chairs at the writing table, knees primly together, hands clasped on the surface of the table.
She finished looking about the room and rested her eyes on Stein who was staring at her with evident impatience. "Doctor, you must do something about Jeffrey."
"Yes. I'm running out of ideas. The poor darling."
"Poor darling? Whatever do you mean?"
She stared at him. "Don't you know? I mean, you're a psychiatrist. He's your nephew."
"Grand-nephew, Madam. Know what?"
She tilted her head, studying him for a moment, face thoughtful. "You really don't, do you? But you've never been married. Never had children."
"Madam, it is late. Please explain yourself briefly. What is your contention concerning my grand-nephew?"
She straightened her back. "Contention? I have no contention. But we must do something. He is crying himself to sleep every night. He sits in front of the television, poor dear, tears running down his face. He's always very polite. But he's so sad."
Stein shifted his shoulders. He could remember no tears. "I have purchased for him a very large television. Very large. It is color, I am advised. Have you seen it?"
"Yes. Of course. That was very nice of you. But now he cries staring at a big screen, not a little screen. You must do something."
Stein stared at the book lying on the table. "He misses his home, of course. It has been three weeks. It is to be expected."
"His father is very seriously ill. He worries about him."
"As he should. His sadness is quite appropriate. But the surgery will occur in five more days. Then we will know."
She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Doctor, he is ten years old. He' crying himself to sleep every night. We must do something. You didn't even know he was crying like that."
"I did not say that."
Stein shifted in his seat. "There were indications."
"Well? You must do something."
He glared at her. "Very well. You are authorized."
"Authorized? To do what?"
"What is necessary."
"What should I do?"
He widened his eyes in outrage. "How should I know? You are the expert. Am I not compensating you? Proceed."
She closed her eyes in exaggerated annoyance, slowly opened them and stared at him. She said nothing. He sat straighter in the chair and cleared his throat. "Very well. Let us consider the matter. He is homesick. He is concerned for his father. He misses his mother. Your attempts to entertain him, while helpful, are not achieving..."
"He needs his uncle to comfort him, Doctor."
"I am his grand-uncle."
"Congratulations. Now comfort him. Hug him. Tell him you love him. Give him some warmth."
Stein blinked. "I cannot manufacture emotions, Madam."
"He's your own flesh and blood. He's an absolute dear. Don't you feel...?"
"What I feel is my own concern. And between the two of us." She glared at him. He closed his eyes for a moment and continued in a softer tone. "Very well. I will visit him and speak with him. I was...unaware of the degree of his sadness."
"He loves you very much."
"Oh, come now. He barely knows me."
She slowly shook her head at him. "He loves you very much, Doctor, and thinks you don't like him very much. He worships you. And he's afraid of you."
"I have done nothing..."
"Everyone's afraid of you. I'm afraid of you. It's the way you speak, I think. I don't know. You're actually very nice. You're really an old softie, I think..."
"Madam! If you would please..."
"I know, I know, you don't want to hear it. Well, it's none of my business until it affects Jeffrey, and now it does. Show him some love, Doctor. Please!"
Stein sighed and looked at his book lying on the table. "I will be more...explicit in my regard for the boy."
She grimaced at his words, but stood up, voice slightly sarcastic. "You do that, Doctor. And you might show him some love while you're at it." She studied him, then briskly said, "Good night," and left the room.
Stein sat still, one hand on the table next to the book, the other in his lap. But he wasn't thinking of Jeffrey. He was thinking of his father's outburst as Stein signed him into the rest home.
It was in San Mateo, twenty miles south of San Francisco, a ranch style building overlooking a small woods and creek. About thirty elderly residents; really much better than most rest homes. His father, almost eighty, was getting a private room. It was going to cost Stein about three thousand dollars a month. Stein, still struggling to pay for his newly opened clinic, was going to be strapped.
Appearances must be maintained. Old Stein had waited until his son and he were alone before spurting this out, his German still perfect but his voice shaking.
"Your emotions are rancid from being stored out of the light. And when they burst out, they destroy. As you are destroying me now. You still hate me for her. For Elva."
His mother had died six years before, and his father had never really recovered from her death. His recent stroke required him to be under continuous care. A live-in nurse was impossible financially. As far as Stein was concerned, this home was the only viable alternative.
Stein knew moving him in would be difficult, had been mentally preparing himself for it for months. Years before, his father had railed against rest homes, "death homes," he called them. "No one wants to be admitted into them," he had told his son a decade before, "since no one wishes to die for the rest of his life." And now he was being admitted by his own son.
His father stood unsteadily in the middle of the small room, Stein and the admitting clerk standing beside him. A small bed. A small desk and chair. Book shelves. Bathroom door to the right. Window looking out over the creek. Television set in one corner, an intercom speaker next to the front door. Walls light tan. Rug off-white. One picture on the wall, an oil painting of Venice.
His father slowly looked about the room. His mouth trembled. It always trembled now. He ignored the lively, happy chatter of the clerk who was opening drawers and doors amid predictions of happy social evenings for old Dr. Stein.
"And on Wednesdays is bridge. I can tell you love bridge, Doctor. You do, don't you?" She pulled open a bureau drawer all the way, showing its depth. "And here is plenty of room for shirts. And there's more storage room, if needed, in room fourteen, down the hall."
She closed the drawer and straightened. She smiled. "And we do something not quite kosher on Friday nights..." She winked at young Doctor Stein. "We play poker. Oh, I know we shouldn't. But the guests love it, and some are quite good."
"Guests?" said Stein, not looking at his father.
"That's what we call our friends staying here," she explained. "We think of them as our guests, you see."
"Permanent guests," mumbled Stein, now looking at his father who remained standing in the middle of the room staring out the window.
"Yes. Yes, you could say that." She looked at the father and son, both so quiet, both so solemn. They were foreign. That must explain it. "Well, call me if you need me. I'm right down the hall. Always ready, willing and able, I always say."
Neither man looked at her. After a moment, Stein grunted, "Thank you."
She smiled brightly and left. Stein moved to the bed and sat down on it His father remained standing, face to the window, lips trembling. Several moments passed.
"I'll unpack for you."
His father said nothing. Stein stood up and allocated the various articles of clothing to the various drawers and shelves. He just finished putting the German medical texts on the small bookshelf when his father at last spoke, spitting out his accusation.
Stein stopped, volume in his hand, and slowly turned to look at his father. He felt as if his chest were constricted. His voice, however, was calm. "Rancid?" he replied, also in German.
"You are contorted. Constricted. I am not to blame for her death. The Nazis were. Or her own family. But you blame me. Have blamed me for over twenty years. Even if you had not had to come for us, you could not have saved her. Yet, you blame me..."
"You are wrong. And this place is to make you more comfortable, to keep you in..."
"You shut me in here. A prison. Bridge on Wednesday nights! Bridge!"
"You don't have to play..."
"If you hate me, say it. Just say it. You don't have to do this, don't have to do this to me..." His voice wavered and stopped. He blinked in some confusion and shuffled to the small chair near the laminated wood desk and sat.
Stein sat on the bed. "I don't hate you, father."
His father said nothing. He just sat, staring out the window at the trees blowing in the wind. Stein sighed. He should say he loved the old man. He knew he should say it. He wanted to say it. He couldn't. It was as if his chest was too tight to let out the words.
"This is not punishment, father. It is the best I can afford."
His father grunted sarcastically. Stein flushed. "It is three thousand dollars a month..."
His father turned his face to him, eyes glistening. "Let me live with you!" Stein looked down. "Son! Let me live with you."
Stein's hands became fists on his knees. He did not look up. "This is better for you, father. Much better. I work all day. You know that. Many nights as well. You need someone twenty-four hours a day on call. You know that." Silence from his father. Stein looked up. His father was staring at him. "This is better for you, father."
"Better you should scream your hatred of me than do this! Why cannot you just say it? Why must you sit there calmly and strike out at me?"
"I am not hiding my feelings."
His father stared at him for a moment. Then he threw back his head and began to laugh. A bitter, brittle laugh. Stein waited for him to stop, silent, watching. At last his father sobered, breathing hard.
Stein's voice was tight. "I am not hiding my feelings. You are now moved in. I will telephone you tomorrow." He stood up to leave.
His father grabbed his wrist, looking up at him. "It's not my fault. You have held it against me for twenty years and now you hate me. You are hard like a shell..."
"I do not hate you. I am not hiding my feelings. You see whatever feelings I have."
"Let me live with you." His father hesitated, coloring, but was desperate enough to get the words out. "Please. Please, my son."
Stein shook his hand free and hurried from the room. As the door closed he heard his father's voice, almost triumphant. "At least you now show me how you feel. By your actions. By your actions."
Stein picked up Anna Karenina and slowly opened it. He would talk to Jeffrey tomorrow. He was too tired tonight. One more night would not matter. He read through his old margin notes, biting his lips, brooding.
PHELPS SIGNALED STEIN WITH A SLIGHT NOD AND they both rose and left his office together. The deposition court reporter stretched her back and began to load another roll of paper in her shorthand machine. Colburn stood to stretch, absently patting Greystone on the shoulder, and walked to Phelps' phone to give his office a call.
Out in the hall Phelps and Stein talked in undertones as they paced back and forth.
Stein said, "He has been rehearsed."
"Of course he has. That's what defense counsel is paid to do. I already told you that should be expected."
"It is improper."
"It is not only proper, but Colburn would be incompetent if he didn't rehearse his witnesses before each deposition. If he did it right, he play acted the entire thing with some associate playing my role, cross-examining Greystone under oath. We do such rehearsals in our office all the time."
"And the truth? How is that achieved if such preparation takes place?"
"Depositions are not about truth, Doctor."
"The witness is under oath! As if in a court of law. And the words are transcribed by the court reporter, you have stated, to be used in court as evidence. How can you say truth is irrelevant?"
"Look, anything the witness states here which helps our case we can use to impeach him on the stand. But anything he says which helps his own case, Colbum cannot use. It would be self-serving hearsay. So any good counsel defending a deposition will try to get his client to say as little as possible and get the hell out of the room. They're not interested in telling us the truth or even their version of truth. They'll save that for trial. They just want this over with."
Phelps pulled Stein farther away from his office. He didn't want Colbum overhearing this lecture. "And if and when they depose our witnesses, I'll tell our witnesses the same thing. We'll rehearse them, tell them to volunteer nothing, and tell them to answer every question with one of three variations: Yes; No; I don't recall. No explanations. No long justifications. Just answer shortly and shut up. And that's precisely what Colbum has told them to do here. No big surprise, Doctor."
Stein harrumphed. "They make nonsense of our investigation, then. How can we discover the actual events that transpired in that meeting when the witnesses have been primed to say as little as possible?"
Phelps grinned. "That's my job, Doctor. To pry it out of them while Colbum politely and subtly tries to keep his witnesses from talking. That's the game. I pump and he tries to plug the pipe. Be patient. One of the witnesses is sure to start talking too much."
Stein stopped pacing and turned to face Phelps. "It sounds hopeless. Why do you feel you will achieve anything with these trained puppets? Indeed, most of the witnesses are lawyers, fully aware of your ploys."
Phelps looked over Stein's shoulder at the reporter signaling she had reloaded her machine. He lowered his voice a little. "Wrong again, Doctor. Lawyers make the worst witnesses. They don't know how to shut up. Think they can outtalk the questioner. We'll open up one or two of them."
"You have failed with three so far."
"And I think we won't get anywhere with Greystone either. The old man doesn't have anything much to say in any event. But we have Hinkle this afternoon and Springer tomorrow. They were both active in the meeting according to Greystone. And next week we get the lawyers who have left the firm since Prestman died. Edwards and the woman...Crowe. Maybe one or the other left because of Prestman's death. Who knows? We'll see."
Stein looked at the floor. "I was...not aware of the amount of manipulation...tactical planning...involved in these procedures, Mr. Phelps. The type of maneuvering is far more subtle than I assumed. I am surprised."
Phelps took his arm, leading him back to his office where the reporter, Colbum, and Greystone waited. "You ain't seen nothing, yet, Doctor. Give me some time and we'll get some dirt."
An hour later Phelps was about ready to let Greystone go. He decided to push a little more on the issue of whether Springer had cautioned the attorneys about Prestman's health. From Phelps' point of view, the firm was in a no-win situation on that issue. If Springer warned them, then their activities were far too aggressive in light of their knowledge of Prestman's condition. If Springer didn't warn them, then he was negligent in not making said warning, and the firm who employed Springer was guilty due to his negligence in failing to warn them. And the sicker they thought Prestman was, the greater their negligence in the meeting.
Not a pivotal issue, but one Phelps wanted to pin down. Once their awareness of Prestman's condition was established, then the key issue became what their conduct should have been in light of their knowledge of Prestman's poor health. But first things first. First, what notice did they have that Prestman was a walking time bomb?
Phelps leaned back in his chair, voice artificially bored. "Just one or two more questions, Mr. Greystone. You've already testified that you had known Mr. Prestman for over thirty years. From when you first came into the firm. I assume, then, that you knew him when he had both of his earlier strokes?""Oh, yes, yes. The first one was about fifteen years ago and the second..."
"Just answer the question, Mr. Greystone," broke in Colburn, voice helpful. "He hasn't asked you when they were."
Phelps studied his notes. "The first was about fifteen years ago?"
"Yes. I think."
"And the second?"
"Quite recently, I think. Maybe..."
"He doesn't want guessing, Mr. Greystone." Colbum smiled at Phelps, one professional to another, smiling in sorrow about too talkative a witness. "Just tell him what you actually remember."
"Well, it was after the first stroke."
Phelps tried not to smile. "Within the last five years, Mr. Greystone?"
"Would you say the whole firm knew of that second stroke?"
Colburn leaned forward in his chair. "Only if you really know. Don't guess here, Mr. Greystone." Colbum had his hand on Greystone's forearm.
Phelps thought, "Worried, aren't you, Colburn?" Out loud, "Yes, don't guess. But if it was a matter of general discussion..."
"Oh, all but the younger fellows must have known. Andrew...Mr. Prestman was out for over six months on the second stroke." He paused, then brightened. "Three years ago!"
"I beg your pardon?"
"The second stroke. It was three years ago."
"Yes. So it was no mystery to the firm that Mr. Prestman had a severe health condition?"
"Of course not. Just look at him. He was a walking wreck!"
Colburn's face was becoming tight as he tried not to show his annoyance. "Just answer the question, Mr. Greystone. He asked as to whether the firm knew. Your answer, I believe, was in the affirmative?"
"Oh, yes, yes."
Phelps smiled slightly. "A walking wreck, you say? By that you mean you all saw him tottering about?"
Colburn spoke before Greystone could answer. "I'm not sure he said walking wreck, Mr. Phelps. That might have been too extreme." He gave a very hard look at Greystone who, at last, realized that he was hurting his own case. He paled a little.
Phelps kept pressing. "The record will speak for itself. The point I was making is, Mr. Greystone and the firm knew Mr. Prestman was in extremely poor health, isn't that correct Mr. Greystone?"
Greystone shifted in his seat. Colbum spoke, trying to give Greystone more time to think. "Counsel, could you define 'extremely poor health?'
Phelps grinned. "I'll withdraw the question. Let me phrase it this way. Mr. Greystone, you knew Mr. Prestman had two previous strokes, right?"
Greystone looked at Colbum who was studying his nails. Greystone sighed. "Right."
"And you knew the second one injured him to the extent that he was out of the office for six months?"
"Well, yes, I said that."
"Did Mr. Springer announce that fact to the meeting before discussing the AmalCo case?"
"Why would he do that?"
"Just answer the question, please. Did he?"
"Of course not. I didn't run the meeting."
"Did anyone announce the fact that Mr. Prestman was in poor health before the meeting?"
"Of course not. We wouldn't embarrass him that way."
Phelps raised his voice. "Embarrass him? You mean it was better to ignore his health and press him hard rather than warn the partners of his precarious health?"
Colbum also raised his voice. "That's argumentative, Counsel. There's no jury here." He smiled slightly, letting Phelps know that he knew that the point had been made.
Phelps grinned a little. "You're right, Mr. Colburn. Sorry. I have no more questions of this witness. Is Mr. Hinkle available now or must we wait until after lunch?"
"He's in court until one. After lunch then?"
Greystone was slowly getting up, looking annoyed at himself. Phelps held out his hand. "Thank you, sir. It was a pleasure meeting you."
Greystone shook hands absently and left the room. Colbum nodded at Phelps and Stein and followed. The reporter sighed, wrote something on her little machine, then stood.
"You want me back at one-thirty, then, Mr. Phelps?"
"Yes. There's a good restaurant on the second floor of this building."
"I know. Thanks." She tossed her long red hair and left. Phelps stopped watching her walk down the hall and met Stein's steady gaze.
"Yes. One hurdle has been overcome."
"No, only partly. We need more witnesses to testify about how notorious Prestman's poor health was. But so far so good. Lunch?"
Hinkle leaned forward on the witness chair, brow furrowed. "It was a truly traumatic experience for me, Phelps. Traumatic. My father also died suddenly. In an automobile accident. I never forgot..."
"Just answer the question, Al," interrupted Colburn, face bland. He didn't like Hinkle much and it showed.
"Was this your first partner's meeting, Mr. Hinkle?" Phelps kept his voice casual.
"The fourth. They have them about every six weeks. But it was the first one in which someone died!" He grinned, looking around to see who liked the joke. No one did. He sobered.
"Do you recall the precise words of the conversation that ultimately led to Mr. Prestman's death?"
"Objection," snapped Colburn. "Assumes facts not in evidence. The causation between the meeting..."
"Withdraw the question. Do you recall who said what to Mr. Prestman during the meeting?"
Hinkle leaned back, looking regretful. "I wish I could help you, Phelps, but, frankly, that was about a thousand conversations ago. I mean, I recall the gist of it..."
"Well, Mr. Springer asked for a vote on removing Prestman from the case after stating that the clients wanted old Prestman off. The guy just wasn't all there any more. Prestman objected to the vote, got upset, and collapsed. Wouldn't even let us vote. I guess he knew the inevitable result. Really sad. He was a nice old guy."
"Anyone besides Springer talk?"
Hinkle thought a little. "Yeah, Joyce Crowe spoke a little. I don't recall what she said. Defended a paralegal Prestman was attacking, I think."
Colbum's voice was sharp. "Don't guess."
"Yeah, I think she said, 'Don't attack the paralegal, he's a good worker,' something like that. I don't really recall."
"Anyone else talk?"
Hinkle thought some more. "Well, I said something."
"I told him to calm down, I think. Told him that we have to worry about the clients. Hell, Phelps, we all were concerned, you know. He was a nice old guy. I even told him he reminded me of my grandfather. He died when I was twelve."
"Yeah. But Prestman was on a roll. You know, he just blew his top. He was mad when he came in, I think. Nothing we could have said would have made any difference."
"When you told him to calm down, do you recall your exact words?"
"Not really. Something like, 'relax, old fellow.' Something like that."
"What was his reply?"
"Started spluttering. Crotchety like."
"You felt he was a crotchety sort?"
"Sure as hell was at this meeting."
"You let him know you didn't appreciate his attitude?"
"I let him know he should care about the firm. About the clients."
"Just answer the question briefly, Al," cautioned Colburn, shifting in his seat.
"You felt he was letting the firm down?"
"I didn't say that."
"Letting the clients down?"
"They thought so. They were threatening to sue."
"And if they sued, it would hurt the firm's reputation, right?"
"Of course. But that doesn't mean I tried to hurt him. The old guy..."
"What did he say when you told him he reminded you of his grandfather?"
Hinkle raised his eyes to the ceiling. "Damned if I recall now. It was months ago."
"Been in many meetings since then when someone died?"
Colbum sat forward. "That's uncalled for, Mr. Phelps."
"His memory is remarkably vague for someone so traumatized, Mr. Colbum. But I'll withdraw the question. Mr. Hinkle, aside from you, Springer, Crowe and Prestman, who talked in that meeting about Mr. Prestman with drawing as counsel?"
"I don't recall."
"Did anyone ask you to speak?"
"In our meetings anyone can speak."
"So you volunteered?"
"I had something to add, that's why." He was glaring at Phelps now.
"I told you."
"That he reminded you of your old grandpa."
"That he should care about the firm and the clients."
"Why? Did your grandpa?"
"Mr. Phelps!" barked Colbum.
"Sorry. So, you told him to give a damn about the firm. That he was going to hurt its reputation?"
"Words to that effect."
"Mr. Springer thank you for that contribution?"
"Did Mr. Springer thank you for your contribution to the discussion?"
"Damned if I recall."
"Anyone there thank you for your useful comments?"
"I don't like your tone, Phelps."
"So don't hire me for your firm. Prestman got pretty upset when you told him he ought to worry about the firm, didn't he?"
"He was pretty upset when he walked in the room."
"You noticed that?"
"You bet I did."
"And still you told him to start caring about the firm and less about himself?"
"Objection," snapped Colbum. "That misstates his testimony."
"Question withdrawn. Mr. Hinkle, did anyone advise you to be careful in your comments due to Mr. Prestman's health?"
A long pause while Hinkle thought about his answer. His quick mind instantly saw that however he answered, Phelps would score a point. He grinned a little and said, “His poor health was no secret."
"You knew about the previous strokes?"
"But Springer didn't tell you to ease off. He just let you keep talking?"
"I was trying to help. I didn't lose my temper. The old man did."
"Did Springer just let you keep talking or did he tell you to ease up on old Mr. Prestman?"
"I was adding useful comments to the meeting, Phelps. He wouldn't have told me to be quiet."
"So he didn't?"
"Not that I recall."
Phelps looked through his questions for a moment or two, and then sighed. "That's all I have for now. Thank you Mr. Hinkle."
He turned to Colbum who was rising from his seat. "Mr. Springer for ten o'clock tomorrow, right?"
"Right. Have a good night. Let's go, Al." And they were gone.
Phelps slowly packed his papers while the court reporter put her machine in her case, smiled and left. Stein sat in one of the client chairs, hands across his stomach, thoughtfully moving his lips in and out. Phelps finished and looked over to Stein.
"I don't like that fellow, Doctor."
"He is an obnoxious twit, Mr. Phelps, who could only attain a position of authority in your regrettable profession."
"You don't want to start that argument again."
"No, I do not. I am merely venting my spleen. That man is so objectionable, so obviously a candidate for the creature that drove Andrew to his death, that he probably was completely uninvolved."
"Possibly. That Crowe woman seems to have been active in the dispute. I bet it's her that got Prestman. While Springer cheered her on. Anyway, I've got other cases to work on and you have some patients to see. Back tomorrow at nine thirty, right?"
"Until tomorrow." Stein left while Phelps began to call back the clients who had tried to reach him during the deposition.
STEIN SLOWLY OPENED THE DOOR TO THE BASEMENT, pressed his lips tight when he heard the sound of the television, grabbed the handrail, and moved down the stairs. From below he could see pulsing light from the television and could hear rapid gunfire over a jazz crescendo. The sound of a police siren emerged as he made it to the bottom of the steps and stopped in astonishment.
The television had a screen easily four feet square. At the upper right corner of the giant screen was an uncolored insert which was displaying a different program than that on the large screen. "Injury and insult combined in the same container," he mumbled as he slowly walked towards the set, eyes fixed on the flashing screen.
Hearing him, Jeffrey swiveled on the plastic chair and stared in shock. "You're down here," he said in a small voice.
But Stein was still studying the screen. On the large one someone was desperately running down an urban street, knocking people aside, and two uniformed officers in hot pursuit. On the small black and white screen a tiny car roared around a comer after another tiny car. No sound emerged from this scene at all.
Stein closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Then he opened them and looked at Jeffrey who pushed a button on a small box on his lap. The screens went blank. The sudden silence made Stein's ears ring.
"Jeffrey. I have come to watch television with you."
Jeffrey's eyes widened and he said nothing. Stein looked about at the numerous cardboard boxes full of old files, broken and abandoned furniture and assorted gardening implements. The small "recreation room" had a thin tan rug, pale yellow walls, a small Ping-Pong table immediately behind the massive television set and three plastic chairs set in front of the television. Stein could not remember the last time he had entered the cellar.
"Where is Mrs. Santelli?"
"She doesn't like these shows. She'll be down in ten minutes for Dallas."
"Yeah, that's not a police show. It's about rich people."
"Excellent. Potential clients for my practice." He moved to one of the plastic chairs and studied it.
Jeffrey licked his lips. "That chair's too small for you, Uncle."
"Yes. I will have Hendrix bring down an appropriate seat."
Jeffrey leaped up. "I'll tell him!" He ran up the stairs. After a moment, Stein slowly walked to the television, harrumphed, and moved past it and the Ping-Pong table. He saw an ancient record player pushed into the corner, a large dusty stack of albums next to it. Brow furrowing, he walked to the stack, picked up the first ten albums or so, and dropped them on the ground. He worked his way through the stack. He found the one he was looking for near the bottom.
It was a seventy-eight, eight records in a heavy cardboard cover, words in German in red at the bottom. Bruckner's Fourth Symphony. Grunting with the effort, Stein knelt down and opened the case. Inside, on top of the records, someone had left a yellowed program announcing Bruckner's Romantic Symphony. Furtwangler. Berlin, April, 1939. Stein pawed through its pages, searching. He found her writing, in German, on a small card slipped into the last page of the program.
"Darling: Perhaps these recordings will cause you to recall our magic evening soon to begin. As I write this it is raining, the wind is howling, and I am wrapped in the fur given to me by my mother for our evening together. I will see you in ten minutes. You will be dressed formally, white gloves, your dark eyes shining with that soft irony that only you can display. You see? I have made golden memories before the events which will create them! What would your Einstein say to this? Remember this, my darling. Remember forever what has yet to occur as I write. My love is timeless, and the past, present and future are all one and the same. I go now. Forever I Love. Your Elva."
Stein remained kneeling, reading the message again. He heard heavy steps and groans as Hendrix worked his way down the cellar stairs, a large upholstered chair in his arms.
Stein quickly closed the album and stood up. He was back in front of the television by the time Hendrix half lowered and half dropped the chair onto the floor. It was Stein's favorite chair from the downstairs study, Stein noted sadly. The one in which he first discovered Gardner's Mickelson's Ghosts. And now it was here to be bombarded with folly encased by commercials. He sighed.
Mrs. Santelli hurried down the stairs as Hendrix straightened the chair before the television set. She was bubbling. "Doctor, you'll love it! You'll see!"
"Dallas! It's far more subtle than most people think." She arrived at the bottom of the stairs. She was still dressed for dinner, a billowy, sequined outfit and pumps. Her hair was sprayed rigid at improbable angles. It occurred to Stein that a major reason she wished to remain in the clinic was the chance it gave her to dress formally for dinner.
Jeffrey ran down the steps after her, still excited. "Put the chair in the middle," he cried to Hendrix who moved the chair accordingly. Hendrix was careful to avoid meeting Stein's eyes, but Stein noticed he was trying not to smile.
"Perhaps you'd care to join us, Mr. Hendrix?" Stein asked coldly.
Hendrix straightened and turned to Stein. "I'd very much like to, Doctor, but I'm just at a most interesting part of The Tempest. You've read it, perhaps?"
"Well, please don't let me interfere with your television viewing, sir. Good night." He smiled politely and hurried up the stairs while Stein glared at his back.
"Doctor," Mrs. Santelli said sitting and patting the upholstered chair beside her, "you sit right here. Jeffrey, you sit on his right."
Jeffrey leaped onto the chair. Stein hesitated, then slowly sat on the comfortable seat. Jeffrey pushed a button and the screen hummed and came to life.
On the screen a very buxom blonde in a tight bikini was sitting on a lounge chair beside a gargantuan swimming pool. Standing above her was a handsome man in a business suit, two drinks in his hand, smiling confidently. She looked up and lowered her sunglasses so that her very blue eyes could meet his.
"You're early," she purred. "My husband won't be home for an hour."
"I know," he smiled, sitting beside her on the chair. "That's why I came. I wanted to get to know you...a little better...now that Jim and I will be working together."
Her smile broadened as she took the drink from his hand. "Sounds good to me. Sounds very good." Their eyes locked in a long, significant look.
Stein winced. Neither Mrs.Santelli nor Jeffrey was laughing. This apparently was not satire. Commencement of infidelity. Enough grist for three or four hours, certainly. How long did this particular program last? He decided it did not really matter. The following program would be equally inane.
For the first time in thirty-five years, Stein allowed himself to consider Elva's death. How had she actually died, he wondered. One assumes that all the Jews were gassed but he was aware that that was an inaccurate assumption. Most women who were attractive were not wasted by mass murder or slave labor. They were used as slave harlots for the officers until they were so exhausted or diseased that they were moved to a labor camp in which they normally died quickly from disease.
And Elva had been very pretty. Men would stop and stare at her as she walked down the street on his arm, women would give her long, appraising glances and their faces would harden. No, she undoubtedly was not gassed but slowly raped to death. His fingernails cut into his palms.
"See?" Mrs. Santelli whispered to him, leaning towards his chair. "See? It's about men and women, about relationships. Just what you and I talk about in our sessions. Not just car chase scenes. I tell Jeffrey he should watch these kinds of shows, not the cop-and-robber ones."
Jeffrey sighed. "It's boring. All they do is kiss and sleep together."
Stein's eyes widened. "They sleep together? On television?"
Jeffrey regarded him curiously. "Sure. All the time. Didn't you know?"
"You know about...people sleeping together?"
"You mean for sex?"
"Jeffrey..." Mrs. Santelli warned.
"Yes. I mean for sex," Stein answered in an increasingly indignant voice.
"Sure. People do it a lot. On these shows. I like the shows where there's some police work."
"Where people get shot," broke in Mrs. Santelli, indignant. She huffed, crossed her arms, and concentrated on the show.
Stein blinked and stared at the screen. A very attractive couple was kissing passionately. The male actor began to slip off her halter top. The scene dissolved to a busy street, another attractive woman hurrying up steps to an office building.
Then again, Stein thought, with Elva's knowledge of chemistry and her brilliant academic record, they might have transferred her to one of those elite slave labor camps in which the brightest of the concentration camp inmates were allowed to help the Reich kill its enemies with the latest technology. There, they would have worked her to death. She would have been killed by lack of sleep, poor food, rampant disease, freezing barracks. Perhaps she had died there.
"I don't like violence. Make love, not war, that's what I say." Mrs. Santelli giggled a little.
She must be a little drunk from the wine at dinner, Stein thought. Out loud, "Moderation in everything, Mrs. Santelli. Or so the Greeks taught."
"One can never love too much, Doctor," she said, and giggled.
She 's wrong, Stein thought. You can love too much.
Elva had said that to him a few days after the concert, just before his afternoon conference with the Gestapo. He had met her for lunch. His Gestapo meeting was to be in the small administration building two blocks down the busy street from the restaurant. They had arrested his parents eleven months earlier.
Stein and Elva held hands, cappuccino ignored on the table, both watching the rain whipping the street, pummeling the dark forms of the pedestrians bent against the wind. She was wearing a red felt beret, fur-collared coat, eyes very dark in her pale face.
"You have your American passport, Gerald?"
"It is vital...absolutely vital that you do not let them take it away. It is your only protection."
"I know that. Don't worry."
She squeezed his hand hard. "You say don't worry. But all I ever do now is worry. And no matter how much I worry it is not enough, there is yet more to worry about." She smiled grimly, eyes glistening. "To be a Jew here and not to worry is to be very foolish, my darling."
He looked down at his cup. "You should have come with me. Four years ago."
She studied his bent head, did not lower her eyes. "Yes. I know. You were right."
"Now...I don't know. Even if I get my parents out...and God only knows how I will do it…how will I get you out? You are a scientist. They will say you know state secrets...”
"I have no work! I have never worked! They refuse to hire Jews..."
He snorted. "They will say you know state secrets to raise the price, my love, not because they believe it or because it is true. You will cost much. More than I have. More than my uncle can give me after we buy my parents."
She shook her head at him. "First things first. First, your parents."
"I was thinking of Eric..."
"But he is SS now. And his father is a colonel in the SS, an important man. He always liked you..."
"No!" She looked out the window.
He stared at her for a long moment. "Have you seen Eric? Since I left?"
She kept her eyes on the window. She licked her lips. "Please drop the subject, Gerald."
He flushed. "Is there something you should tell me?"
She turned to him then, face paler than before, eyes bright and angry. "Who are you to judge me? You, safe in America, safe from these animals?"
He stared at her, feeling anger and despair beginning to mix in his craw. She saw his face crumbling and her own face softened. She looked at his powerful hand. "It ended over a year ago...we had to end it, really."
He leaned back, letting her hand drop on the table. His voice was flat. "I see. You had to end it?"
She blinked rapidly but kept her eyes on his. "It's a crime now, you know."
"Intimate relations with a Jew. Eric would go to a concentration camp. So would I."
He felt sick. "Intimate relations." He closed his eyes. "I see." He was having trouble breathing.
"You don't have to look like that, Gerald. You were gone. On the other side of the world. I never thought..."
"With a Nazi!"
She flushed, eyes furious. "It's not a Nazi. It's Eric. Eric!"
He wouldn't look at her. He felt hot. After a few moments he could sit there no longer. "Excuse me. I have to go to the bathroom." He rose to his feet unsteadily and hurried down the aisle.
He stood in the toilet staring at the grey marble walls, slowing his breathing. About five minutes later he felt calm enough to go back to the table.
She was gone. On a napkin she had written, "Foolish of me, Gerald. You are so calm, so strong. I had forgotten how deep you feel, how your strength can create a love strong enough to overcome your control. You were gone four years and I had idealized you, made you stronger than a man should be. You had become, in my mind, a superman. Now you are hurt and dismayed. And this before the most important meeting of your life! Forgive me. Call me after the meeting, if you wish. I love you."
He sat at the table, head in his hands, eyes tightly closed. He had to calm down, had to recreate the iron control needed for this meeting. Staring out the window, he tried to make his mind blank. His parents' lives would depend on this next half-hour.
He took one of the table spoons between his thumb and forefinger and concentrated on bending the stainless steel. It took a good thirty seconds. His thumb began to bleed. Panting a little, he took the napkin with her message on it and stemmed the flow. He felt a little calmer. He used the napkin to wipe his forehead, careful to avoid smearing blood on his face.
On the screen the blonde whirled about to face the lovely brunette. The brunette smiled acidly. Closeup. The two exchanged a long look of hatred. The blonde spoke first. "I'm warning you. He's mine. Mine. Stay away from him or you'll pay."
"Will I?" The brunette's smile broadened. "We'll see. And we'll see who he really wants!" She flounced off.
The scene panned to the rest of the garden party, the two women automatically smiling to the other guests as they parted. Suddenly in the foreground, the subject of their rivalry was seen leaning against a tree talking to a much younger, very innocent looking girl. He took a swig of his drink.
"Look, can't we get away from here? All these people make me nervous. I have a little place near the lake..."
She looked down at the glass in her slim hands. "Well, I don't know. I mean, is it really proper...?"
He glanced about quickly. "Sure. It's innocent. I just need someone to talk to...someone who understands what I'm trying to really do, what I'm trying to create..." He smiled charmingly. "I'm a married man. I just want to talk. Get away from these people, their shallowness..."
Mrs. Santelli was outraged. "Don't trust that snake!" she warned the screen. "Don't trust him."
Jeffrey yawned. "Nothing ever happens on these shows."
"Lots happen," she retorted. "If it doesn't shoot or go fast you think it's not interesting. Well, the doctor will tell you that there's more to life than guns and cars. Right, Doctor?"
"Yes, Madam. There is apparently sexual misconduct among the wealthy idle of suburban Dallas. Though why this fact should interest the rest of the nation escapes me."
Jeffrey sounded serious. "If they took all their clothes off I could see why people would want to watch. But they don't show it."
"Jeffrey!" Mrs. Santelli pretended she was shocked.
Stein was curious. "Would you like to see naked people on the television, Jeffrey?"
"What he'd like to see are naked people in a fast moving car shooting at each other," volunteered Mrs. Santelli. "Quiet! Shush! He's going to take her to the lake. I know it!"
Stein and Jeffrey silently watched the screen. Sure enough, the couple were going to the lake. Stein could just see the stack of old albums from where he sat, the Bruckner now on top.
Had he worn white gloves when he picked up Elva for that concert? He doubted it. His formal clothes would have been left in San Francisco. Her "future memories" were fantasies, not realities.
In the Gestapo building Stein was kept waiting over two hours, sharing the cold, echoing waiting room with a very old man in a ratty raincoat who struck Stein as an unemployed professor. He was reading a damp copy of Goethe. They sat side by side on a wooden bench, the steam radiator clanking noisily. Across the brown linoleum floor on a light green wall was a large, stylized painting of Adolf Hitler dressed in armor on a charger, lance in his right hand with a swastika on his shield.
Stein stared at the swastika, hating Eric. He was oblivious of the time, oblivious of the occasional glance from the elderly secretary who was typing at the metal desk at one end of the room directly before the plain wooden door.
No one else entered the small room. Her telephone never rang. Occasionally, distantly, he heard the main entrance door on the first floor close and steps echoing on the way to another office. Time passed.
Elva had slept with Eric. She, who had refused Stein, who had stated that she would save herself for her husband. She had slept with the Nazi. Despite himself he pictured them in bed. They would look beautiful together he realized in despair, his blond, smooth, tanned body, her dark, soft, curves. White winter light on their bodies. He clenched his fists.
The secretary glanced up again at the intense young man seething on the bench. She wondered if she should call security. The man looked powerful: massive shoulders, thick chest. He looked as if he could bend metal bars. But her boss would dismiss her if she caused a scene unnecessarily, if she showed any anxiety about the supplicants who visited him daily. She kept typing.
Stein began mentally reciting the various bacterial diseases of Africa, hoping this would calm him. He sat with his eyes closed, lips moving silently.
The secretary mumbled some words to the old professor. He rose and shuffled by her desk to the blank wooden door. The door slammed and echoed in the small room.
The secretary put another paper in her typewriter and her eyes met Stein's. She noted with some surprise that he had beautiful eyes; dark, large, intelligent. She wondered what eyes like those where doing in that bear-like body.
The old "professor" exited almost immediately, a small piece of flimsy paper clutched in his hand. He shuffled out, looking straight ahead, his face pale. Stein watched him go, felt the tension building in his chest.
He heard steps and turned his face to the door. Oberleutenant Meister was picking up some typed sheets the secretary had piled on the side of the desk. He glanced at them, foot tapping absently. Though hatless, he was dressed in the black uniform of the Gestapo, swastika on a red armband contrasting sharply with the dark uniform.
The secretary mumbled something to him and he grunted and looked over at Stein. Stein glared at him. For a long moment the two men regarded each other. Then, just as the oberleutenant began to turn to go into his office, Stein stood, breathing heavily, arms handing loose at his sides. Meister stopped and stared at him. Finally, he barked, "Come!" and moved quickly into his office.
Stein followed. Small room, thick curtains drawn, too hot. One desk, two chairs. Files were everywhere, piled high on the desk, in cartons on the floor, protruding from half open file cabinets which lined three of the four walls. Two telephones were on the cluttered desk, five or six stamps and stamp pads, a half eaten sandwich. With slightly trembling hands Stein moved some files off a metal chair and sat before the grey metal desk.
Meister was already seated, slowly removing a cigarette from a metal holder. He tapped the cigarette on the holder, eyes on Stein, face blank. After a moment's hesitation, he held the case out to Stein. "You are Doctor Stein, son of Professor Stein of Munich?"
"Yes. I wish to see Commandant Streiser." Stein took the offered cigarette though he did not smoke. He let Meister light it for him. He hoped he could smoke it without coughing. He wondered if Meister noticed his hands trembling. He coughed.
Meister shook his head. "None of you people understand how busy we are. Look at this office, at these files. We have no time for meetings. None of you understand that. I work every night this week so far. Commandant Streiser is as busy as I am. A difficult man to see."
Stein leaned back in the seat, cigarette forgotten in his hand. "I believe Herr Alwich and Herr Munster telephoned your office. As well as Professor Wallach?"
Meister shrugged. "Yes, I believe you are correct. But so many call nowadays. I will see what I can do. It will be difficult."
Stein locked his eyes on Meister “I have not much time. I must be back in America within three weeks.”
"Yes. Weil, perhaps something will happen.”
"Will you help?"
"Me? I am busy. Too busy. I will leave word with the commandant. That is all I can do."
"We would be grateful. Very grateful."
"Oh?" Master's face became completely blank. "You would be grateful? Well. Grateful."
He leaned his elbows on the desk. He blew smoke to the side. Stein waited for him to continue. He did not. Stein hid his hands in his lap so Meister would not see them shaking. "Did not Herr Bagler of Krupps contact you?"
"Then you know how important a quick meeting is. To us. And to our friends."
Meister sighed and looked at the files. "You do not understand. You think I bear you ill will. I do not have time for hate. I am too busy."
"Herr Bagler would have explained how important we regard this matter, how our gratitude would be shown. My visa expires in twenty days."
Meister glanced at the picture of Himmler on the far wall. "We could extend the visa."
"I must be back in San Francisco. I teach at the University of Medicine there."
A slight smile appeared on Meister's face. "I see Krupps money helps wherever you go, Doctor."
Stein's eyes narrowed but he said nothing. Meister drummed his fingers on the table. "You are an American citizen now?"
"I see. How fortunate for you."
Stein said nothing.
Meister picked up a file from the stack on his desk. "I will contact the commandant and ask if he can see you before you go."
"I am at the Kaiser Wilheim in room..."
"We know where you are, Herr Doctor." He did not look up from the file he was flipping through.
The interview was over. Stein stood up, towering over the man who kept rapidly turning pages in the file. He stood there a moment. Meister looked up, annoyed. "That is all, Herr Doctor."
Stein nodded, jaws working, tamed and moved to the door, feet echoing on the linoleum floor. Meister's voice stopped him just as he reached the door.
"There is a difficulty, Herr Doctor."
Stein turned and looked back.
Meister was still leafing though the file, still not looking up. "Some idiot clerk must have misnumbered your ...father. He is currently misallocated. He is not in the proper folder." He looked up then, for the first time looking truly angry. "They give us incompetents, you know. Fools. All they have to do is read a seven digit number and copy it. But can they do that? No!"
Shaking his head, he began looking though the pages again. Stein stood there, brow furrowing. "You have lost my father?"
Meister barked a laugh, threw the file down and opened up another. "Oh, he can't have gone far. We will locate him wherever he is. But you see the problems we have. Incompetence! And I am always the one who must correct it."
He puffed on his cigarette, apparently forgetting that Stein was there. Stein carefully opened the door and left.
The car door slammed and the brunette ran up the cabin steps; "I know you're in there," she screamed tearfully. The door was locked. She began pounding on it.
Stein looked over to Jeffrey. He was looking at Stein.
Are you enjoying this, Jeffrey?"
Jeffrey shrugged. "Maybe she'll shoot him or something. They did that once on this show."
"You watch it often?"
"My mother likes it."
"Will you walk with me? I normally take a stroll about this time."
"Shush!" said Mrs. Santelli.
Jeffrey slipped off his seat and the two of them made their way up the steps.
"YOU ADMIT YOU WERE IN CHARGE OF THE MEETING, Mr. Springer?"
"And you agree that it was your responsibility to ensure the proper running of the meeting?"
A pause. "Yes."
"In your opinion, did you run that meeting properly?"
Colburn sighed noisily. "Well, Mr. Phelps, that's a pretty vague question."
"I'm simply asking his opinion."
Colburn gave his client a significant look. "Well, if he has formed an opinion, I will not object to him giving it."
Springer glanced at his counsel. "No. No, I have not formed an opinion."
"You haven't pondered the events at that meeting?"
"He's answered that question, Mr. Phelps." Colburn raised his voice a notch.
"In your opinion did anyone speak out of turn or improperly in the meeting?"
Springer narrowed his eyes. "We let anyone who wishes to speak do so in our meetings. It's not a dictatorship."
"Just answer the question, Henry." Colburn did not look up from his note taking.
"No one spoke improperly, in my opinion," Springer said, voice tight.
"So you were entirely satisfied with the progress of themeeting?" Phelps kept his voice flat.
"Misstates his testimony," snapped Colbum.
"It was a question, not a quotation," Phelps snapped back. "Were you, sir?"
Springer hesitated. "I was not happy having to confront the old man. I would have done a great deal to avoid it. I did do a great deal to avoid it. But...given the need to take him off the case, we did it as well... as humanely as possible."
Phelps paused, writing something on his notes. The clicking of his grandfather clock behind the witness chair was the only sound in the room.
"Who spoke in the meeting once the Prestman matter came up?"
"I'm not sure. Several other attorneys would have spoken I am sure."
"Do you recall who?"
Springer leaned farther back, eyes squinting. "Well, Mr. Greystone may have. I'm not sure."
"I don't recall."
"He says he doesn't recall, Mr. Phelps."
"I'm trying to refresh his recollection, Mr. Colbum. Well, Mr. Springer?"
"Perhaps. I really don't recall."
"Don't guess," Colbum instructed.
"Did Mr. Hinkle say anything?"
"I think so, but I'd be guessing if you asked me what. Look, I take full responsibility for that meeting. The other attorneys were not running the meeting."
"You don't recall what Ms. Crowe or Mr. Hinkle said?"
"That's been asked and answered, Mr. Phelps."
"Mr. Hinkle has testified that his grandfather was mentioned. Do you recall that?"
Springer looked at Colbum who was making notes on his own pad. A moment of silence. "Perhaps he mentioned his grandfather. I'm not sure."
"What did he say about his grandfather?"
Colbum's voice was bored. "He already says he's not sure, counsel."
"Is that true, Mr. Springer?"
"Yes. It's very vague."
"And you don't recall anything that Ms. Crowe said, either?"
"Anyone accuse Mr. Prestman of being incompetent?"
"Yes. His clients."
"They weren't at the meeting, were they?"
"No. But I had to relay their comments. We had this vote coming up. I had to let the other partners know. It was very embarrassing for Mr. Prestman, I'm sure. I hated doing it."
"How did Mr. Prestman react to the clients' comments?"
Springer smiled a little for the first time. "He said clients don't always know good work on the part of a lawyer. Lord knows he was right there."
"Did you tell him you agreed with him on that issue during the meeting?"
"So. You do remember some of the conversation among the other counsel?"
Colbum glanced at Springer, frowning. Springer shrugged, "Well, I remember that comment."
"Any other comments now come to mind?"
Springer studied his hands clasped in his lap. "Just vague recollections, Mr. Phelps. We were all pretty upset. I know I was."
Phelps leaned back in his seat. "Really? Why?"
Springer ignored the warning look from Colbum. "I can't speak for the rest of the firm, only myself. I had just finished trying, once again, to talk Andrew into dropping his involvement with the case. Warning him about the clients' complaints. He wouldn't listen. It...was upsetting."
"You were upset. Were you also angry?"
Springer looked up then. "Not angry. Sad."
"Sad for Mr. Prestman? Or sad for the firm?"
"Sad for both of us. All of us. Getting old is enough to make anyone sad."
Phelps' eyes flashed. "That depends rather on how you're treated by the young, doesn't it?"
Colbum closed his eyes in annoyance. "Is that philosophy or a question, Counsel?"
"Question withdrawn. Mr. Springer, you were sad. Upset. Do you think that affected the way you handled the meeting?"
"Perhaps. I don't know."
"You had known Mr. Prestman for how long?"
"Forever. Since I came to the firm. Close to twenty years. He was my..."
"Just answer the question," Colbum interrupted. Looking at Phelps, "I believe the witness answered 'close to twenty years,' Counsel."
"Thanks, Counsel," Phelps said with a hint of irony. "He was your senior counsel when you were learning the ropes?"
"Yes. Yes, you could say that."
"Do you say it?"
"Yes. Yes, I do. He was a damned fine lawyer, Mr. Phelps. A gentleman."
"He died a gentleman, did he not?"
Springer winced. "If you had seen him on that floor..."
"Just answer the question, Henry." Colbum was sounding increasingly annoyed.
"Mr. Springer, did you feel that it was right to throw Mr. Prestman into the arena with fifteen angry attorneys taking potshots at him?"
Colbum sat up. "Counsel, I object to the tone and the thrust of that question."
"Are you instructing the witness not to answer?"
Colbum considered. "Will you rephrase the question?"
Phelps drummed his fingers, looking at Springer who was staring at Phelps' desk. "Sure. Mr. Springer, do you feel that having an open meeting with the other partners was the best way to solve the problem?"
"No. It was a horrible way. But what was I to do? I couldn't get him off, Mr. Phelps. I couldn't persuade him. Look..."
Colbum began, "Just answer the question..."
"No." Springer snapped, "no, I'm going to answer this." He glared at Colbum then turned to Phelps. "What the hell was I supposed to do? The clients were outraged. I'm responsible to them. And to forty people who work in my firm. Are they all to be sacrificed on the altar of his god-damned ego?"
Phelps' face was carefully blank. "So, you were pretty angry yourself. Mr. Prestman was being unreasonable?"
"Damned right he was. To the detriment of the firm. And the clients."
"So you told him that?"
"He knew! He damned well did."
"Did he? Did he really?"
Springer leaned back in the chair, face softening. "God, yes. He must have. He must have known."
He paused. Then, quietly, "Phelps, he used to be one of the great ones. He used to be what all of us young lawyers looked up to, respected. I loved the man. I loved him."
He swallowed and looked at his lap. Phelps made a notation on his legal pad, not looking at him. Stein gazed at Springer, brow furrowed.
A secretary came in and whispered something to Phelps. He glanced at Stein sitting in the chair next to his desk. "Call for you, Doctor. They say it's vital. Want to take it in the conference room?"
Stein raised his eyebrows. "Very well. Proceed. I should not be long." He rose and slowly left the room, following the secretary to the large conference room down the hall.
The telephone was on a cherry-wood credenza across from the conference table. Stein picked up the receiver and moved to the window. He noted that there must be five hundred windows in view, most filled with men and women on telephones or computers. Some were looking out the windows. But not at him.
"Gerald. It's Phil. I'd like you to come in this afternoon. Around four?"
"The test results are in?"
"Yes. Can you come?"
"No. I am indisposed. The results are malignant or you would not be requesting me to attend you. Let us not be coy."
"Things are not that simple. You and I have to discuss the results and my prognosis."
"I am aware of the prognosis available for me. And of the available treatments, if one could call such barbaric methods treatment. The only answer I require of you is one of timing. How advanced?"
"Look, I want you to come in."
"I am aware of that fact. Undoubtedly I will do so. It will not be today. Now kindly advise me as to my probable time schedule."
A long pause. Then, quickly, "You know that time schedules don't necessarily apply. I don't want you to give too much credence to my estimates."
Stein sat down heavily on one of the conference chairs. It was a little too small for him. He closed his eyes, leaning his head on his free hand. "Phillip, it is incumbent upon you to realize that you are not dealing with your average patient. You are the oncologist I chose precisely because you are not reputed to have a bedside manner. Do not betray your reputation. How long?"
A long silence ensued, Stein not moving, eyes remaining closed. At last his doctor sighed and answered. "Normally between six and nine months. With you, I would predict...and don't hold me to this...closer to six months. Want me to explain why?"
"Later. When will the pain become disabling?"
"About three weeks before the end. The pain will increase slightly between now and then but we have drugs..."
"I am aware of the available drugs. Are there any radical treatments not already reported in the journals as of two months ago?"
"No. No...not really."
Stein leaned back in the chair. "Then I am a dead man."
"That was not an exclamation, Phillip. It was a statement of fact. I am an elderly man. You have, at most, announced a reduction of five or so years. Years of increasing mental decay. I am not despondent."
"Will you come in tomorrow?"
" I will telephone you tomorrow. Currently I am needed on other matters. Good day." He hung up before the doctor could say more. He sat on the seat and stared out the window at the windows.
His initial thought was that he would die before he suffered additional mental deterioration. He would no longer have to engage in continuous testing of mental capacities. He felt relieved. It had been very annoying.
His second thought, which for some inexplicable reason hit him hard, was that he would be dead before Christmas. He hated holidays, had never kept them, and considered them orgies of materialism. Yet the thought that he would no longer exist at the time the decorations were placed on the city streets filled him with melancholy. He considered his emotional reaction with surprise and some bitter amusement. He had thought he would be free of such sentimental nonsense.
He next considered which drug to take when it was time to commit suicide. There were several that struck him as appropriate. He was still sitting there when Phelps came in twenty minutes later.
Stein looked up in embarrassment, voice hoarse. "I apologize. My call took longer than I anticipated. Have we finished for the morning?"
Phelps was studying him. "Yes. Until one. What's wrong?"
Phelps pulled out one of the conference chairs. "What happened? Are you all right?"
"Fine, thank you. Did the deposition proceed adequately after I departed?"
Phelps did not answer, eyes fixed on him. Stein pushed his chair back and began to rise. Phelps' voice stopped him. I'm your lawyer, Doctor. I think you might consider whether that fact should cause you to reveal whatever just occurred?"
"You think I have been accused of a crime?"
" I think you've just received word concerning your health. I've seen that expression before, Doctor. Am I right?"
Stein regarded Phelps for a long moment before answering. "I am unsure as to whether to be impressed by your insight or disappointed in my ability to control my facial muscles."
Phelps' mouth tightened. "Sit down, Doctor."
Stein hesitated, and then sat. "You are correct that your position as my legal advisor requires me to work with you at this time. I assume our communications are privileged?"
Phelps blinked rapidly. "Yes. Cancer?"
"Yes. I have a little over five months. I must make numerous arrangements and will require..." He stopped because Phelps had closed his eyes tightly and was rubbing his head with both his hands. Stein regarded him for a moment, silent.
"Jesus Christ, goddammit." mumbled Phelps, eyes still closed.
"I will still fund the litigation through a trust fund I will set up..."
Phelps opened his eyes, coloring. "You think that's why I'm upset?" Stein stared at him. Phelps raised his voice. "You asshole, you think that's why I'm sitting here reeling? We work together fifteen goddamned years, you tell me you're going to die, and you think all I care about is my goddamned fees?" He stood and rapidly left the room without looking back.
Stein sat breathing heavily. This was both unexpected and dangerous. He could not let emotions sway him. He had much to do. The emotional reaction of individuals about him apparently affected him greatly.
He suddenly realized that his reactions had continuously surprised him. He was acting in a manner that he would not have predicted despite his previous extensive training in death counseling.
Remarkable. He concluded that death could be an enlightening experience. He smiled slightly. Or, as the paperback psychologists would pant in their latest work on how to be happy, sexy, successful and well-adjusted, death was a growing experience. Stein chuckled. He liked that.
EARLY EVENING, IN HIS OFFICE, JEFFREY AND STEIN waited for the telephone call from Jeffrey's parents in Europe, the call that would give the results of the operation. A chess board was set out on the desk again. Both were playing very poorly. Jeffrey could hardly sit still. Stein saw that and suggested they abandon the game.
"Jeffrey, go down and watch television. I will call you when the call comes."
"No. There's nothing good on."
He studied the child's serious face. "Is this not the night for the talking automobile that assists in crime prevention?"
"Yeah. But I don't feel like watching." Jeffrey rubbed his palm on the smooth surface of the desk. "I want to stay up here...with you." He kept his eyes on the desk.
Stein kept his eyes on the boy. "Very well. I would like that. Have you given thought about our last conversation concerning what I called 'objective truth?”
"Yes. A little."
"You said that everyone sees a different truth, that we all create our own truths. And then I postulated the question as to whether that was true for scientific facts. For observable phenomena. Do you recall?"
"Yes. You said that wasn't it true that certain laws are objective. Like gravity. Objects attracting each other or something."
"Yes. Do you now concede there is objective truth in some areas of knowledge?"
The boy looked up at Stein, feet kicking the desk softly. "Will he die, Uncle?"
"My dad. Will he die?" His voice broke a little. They stared at each other a long moment.
"Why do you ask me, Jeffrey? Isn't that why we are waiting for the telephone call?"
"I can't wait anymore. And you know so much. Will he die?" The boy began to silently cry, tears on his cheeks.
Then Stein surprised himself again. He did something that he had never done before, something that he would have considered unthinkable. "Jeffrey, I feel that your father will recover completely."
Jeffrey looked at him, eyes wide. "You do?"
"Yes. That is my opinion. For what it is worth."
Jeffrey leaned back in his chair. He was no longer crying. "You really think so?"
"Yes, I do. Now go watch your television. I will call you when the telephone connection is made."
"Can't I stay with you? Please?"
"You surrender television for me? I am astonished."
Jeffrey smiled a little but said nothing, shyly looking at his swinging legs. Stein examined his own large stomach. "An excellent study could be made of the emotional effect of waiting, Jeffrey. How suspense is a painful emotion, too little examined."
Stein remembered a conversation with his mother about that.
Switzerland, November, 1939 after he had achieved their release. Stein's father and mother were with him on the train, his father a trembling, somehow translucent figure, huddled in one comer. His mother, supposedly a woman of weak constitution, had hardly been affected by the camp at all; indeed seemed five years younger having lost both the weight and the anxiety that had weighed her down in the years before their arrest.
"It was a relief to be arrested," she told Stein on the train to Basle. "It was the waiting, the fear, that was torturing me. No matter what the camps were like, they could not be worse than I imagined they would be."
Stein's father had stared at her, eyes as hollow as his cheeks, swallowing, not arguing. Stein looked away. This wreck was not his father. It was not anyone he had ever known. Some strange, old man who sat and stared at you with vacant eyes, then would suddenly speak with a voice that was identical to his father's, then falter and begin mumbling.
Perhaps if they had assigned him as a doctor in the camp hospital it would have been all right. But there had been a bureaucratic mistake and Professor Stein had ended up making felt slippers in a large camp in the eastern part of Germany, slowly starving to death. His number was 3257897. They had transposed the last digits on his form. And on the tattoo on his arm. Thus, the camp hospital lost a famous doctor and Professor Stein made over six hundred felt slippers.
His mother, transported to a Bavarian camp hospital as a nurse's assistant, almost enjoyed the work. "The relief of the arrest...how can I tell you how it helped? And it wasn't that bad. All of us arrested...well, we helped each other. It was like some great common disaster, something that brought us close together. We had waited and feared the arrest alone. Once it came, we were no longer alone. Or..." she looked at her husband, "...at least I was no longer alone."
Her husband started as the train went though one of the many tunnels. In the sudden dark Stein heard his father mumble, "not in our camp. We fought like tigers...no, no, like rats. For scraps. For the favor of the guards...for..." And his voice faded away as he stared out the train window.
Two days later, arriving at the hotel, Stein quickly checked them in and rushed to the telegraph office. He opened the telegram from his uncle. Alex Stein had sent few words: "Re: Elva. Try. Up to thirty thousand marks. Godspeed."
Without knowing how, Stein was in a park, sitting on a bench, telegram clutched in his hands. Children were playing on swings. With trembling hands he wiped his cheeks. He should go back to the hotel and see if his mother had found the location of the hospital for his father. Instead he rushed to the international telephone building.
He sat alone in a small wood and glass room, really a large phone booth, a tiny table and chair, a small black telephone with no dial, rate card on the table. Through the glass panels he could see the other fifteen tiny glass rooms lining the walls of the large hall, each identical to his own, most empty this early in the morning. By pressing the receiver tightly to his ear he could make out the faint voice that was Elva. The booth was stuffy. He was sweating.
He must persuade, must change her mind. He felt as if he was bursting with repressed arguments. "Elva you must, you must listen. The war will not make it better. Cannot. It can only get worse..."
"You don’t know that..."
"Look, you said I was wise to leave four years ago...that I was right. Can't you trust me now...?"
Silence. Crackling on the line. Was it cut off? Then, "Remember the Night of the Glass?"
"Yes. All the more reason..."
"You cannot come back. For any reason. You will not get out again."
"Untrue. I am an American citizen..."
"That means nothing now. Do you know what they do to the Jews on the streets? And the police helped. Helped. The streets were deep in shards of glass from the Jewish stores. All the temples are burned. My God, Gerald, you don't know..."
"I will be there in two days. I must admit my father in the hospital. Then I will leave..."
"No. You don't even have a visa that is good anymore. They won't renew it a third time."
"Even without one..."
"No. You will do no good. You will make it worse. I can take care of myself and my mother."
He closed his eyes tight. "Elva, listen to me. You must, must leave. Your mother is less threatened than you are.You are young, you have your whole life..."
"You did not abandon your parents."
"I only returned for them when it was safe for me. When I was an American. It is not safe for you now. Please. You must leave. Must."
"Darling...listen to me, now. Listen." Her voice was different. He realized with despair that she was no longer arguing. She was saying goodbye, not with words, but with her tone of voice. Her voice was faint on the line. "Listen to me, my love, listen. I will not leave my mother to them. Not now. Not ever. She is old, she is afraid. You cannot get us both out. We know that. I must stay."
His voice speeded up with his desperation. "Four years ago you said that to me. You said we must give up each other for your mother's sake. Do you think she would want that? Do you?"
The line was too faint to tell if she was crying. "I do not know, Gerald. I will not know for I will never ask her. I cannot ask her that. You must know that."
He leaned far back in the chair looking at the ceiling, not seeing it. "I will be arriving on the afternoon train Wednesday. Will you meet me?"
"No. They will kill you. It is not safe on the streets. You must not come."
"I am coming. If you meet me it might be safer. You know the cafe near the south end?"
"You must not come. Please, my love."
"I am coming. Will you meet me?"
This time the silence was very long. He was about to speak when she spoke. "I must tell you something. Something painful. For both of us." He said nothing. "Gerald?"
"Yes. Go on."
"You must not come. I am not alone now. I mean..." He waited, not breathing. He heard her taking a deep breath. "I am with Eric now. Again."
He swallowed. "That is a crime."
"I know. He knows. But we are together. You must not return."
"He is SS. He is one of them. You can't be with him."
"He is with them because of his father. You don't know what it is like for him. How he suffers."
He barked a sarcastic laugh. "No, Gerald, he is not like them. You must know that."
He could hardly speak. He grunted, "Can he get you out?"
"He is trying."
He closed his eyes. "I will help him. The money will help him."
"No. I do not want you to contact him. He is jealous. He will turn against me. Will lash out."
"You said he loves you."
"He is jealous, I tell you. He thinks all men want me. And he doesn't want you to know about us. You are his friend. And...he'll think you still want me."
"He is right. I want you."
"And he will know that. Gerald, I am at his mercy. You will destroy the only real chance my mother and I have."
His voice was thick. "Then you have become a whore. You have sold your body to a Nazi to save your skin. A whore."
"You know nothing. Nothing about how I feel. About what it is like here. No, you left, left before it became like this..."
"Before I would have to prostitute myself..."
"Stop this. Stop. This is the last time we may ever speak. Don't do this." She was crying now.
"You'd rather rely on that Nazi than on me..."
"You can do nothing but get arrested..."
"I got my parents out."
"That was before…That was a million years ago. My love, it is too late for your money now. Too late. Too late for us."
He could say nothing, his head on his fists, the receiver clutched in one fist. At last he breathed, "Elva...please..."
A long silence. Then, "Good-bye, Gerald. God go with you. God help both of us." The line went dead.
Stein never heard from her again. Neither her body nor her mother's body were recovered from the death camps.
Stein could hardly hear his nephew's wife, Martha, on the poor connection. "Speak up, please," he shouted.
"We don't know anything, yet," she said very loudly. "They say we have to wait until more results are in...two more days."
Stein looked at Jeffrey who was staring at the phone. Stein cradled the phone. "No answer, yet, Jeffrey. Two more days." Jeffrey closed his eyes.
"Let me talk to the doctor," Stein bellowed at the phone.
"I'm at the hotel. It's very late. The doctor went home from the hospital."
"I will call him tomorrow, then. LaRouge is his name?"
"Yes. Please talk to him. How is Jeff? May I speak to him?"
"Fine. Here he is."
Stein watched Jeffrey speaking in monosyllables on the phone, legs swinging back and forth. Finally, Jeffrey mumbled that he loved his mother and handed the receiver back to Stein. Stein told Martha good night and hung up. Jeffrey was studying the Persian carpet.
"Will you walk with me Jeffrey? It is about the time of my regular stroll."
Jeffrey did not look up. "Yes...you still think...he'll be OK?"
"Yes. Yes, I do. You should wear a jacket."
"Yes, Uncle." Jeffrey left for his room, walking slowly.
JOYCE CROWE, PHELPS CONCLUDED, WAS THE MOST DANGEROUS type of woman attorney. A truly liberated woman. So liberated that she was not concerned about using her femininity to win her cases or manipulate her opponents. Whatever works.
She crossed her long, tan legs, tossed back her short, dark hair, tilted her lovely face and gave him a hard, appraising look.
Unsmiling, he returned it. He had long ago realized that showing any positive reaction at all to such powerful women would only result in disaster. His solution was to treat them as asexual and dangerous creatures. In short, treat them as attorneys.
"You left the firm about three weeks after Mr. Prestman's death, is that correct?" The reporter's machine made a soft, tapping sound as Joyce considered her answer.
"That's about right."
"Don't guess, Ms. Crowe," cautioned Colburn.
"I'm not," she firmly answered, keeping her eyes on Phelps.
"When did you first decide to leave the firm, Ms. Crowe?"
Colburn looked pained. "How is that relevant, Mr. Phelps?"
And why so worried, my friend? Aloud he stated, "Background, Mr. Colburn. I wish to know her state of mind during the meeting."
Colbum sighed theatrically. "Well, that seems pretty far fetched..."
"Are you instructing her not to answer?" If he did, Phelps could bring a motion in court to compel an answer and Colbum would have highlighted what he clearly wished to gloss over. Phelps watched Colbum's quick mind map a strategy.
"It's not that critical one way or another, is it Bob? Sure, she can answer. But not too long on this topic, OK?"
Phelps directed his gaze back at her. She had not moved her eyes from his face. It was disconcerting, he realized. Intentionally so. He began to get annoyed. "Well, Ms. Crowe?"
"I had been considering leaving the firm for some time, Mr. Phelps."
"Did the events at the meeting in which Mr. Prestman died have any effect on your decision?"
Another objection. "That's pretty general, Bob. Can you make it more specific?"
"Sure. Ms. Crowe, did Mr. Prestman dropping dead as he was beaten into submission make you reconsider your tenure at the firm?"
Crowe smirked and looked down while Colburn exploded. "I strenuously object to the tone and sarcasm of your question, Mr. Phelps. You are being flippant..."
"Like hell I am. That was an accurate portrayal of our view of that meeting, Mr. Colburn. Not only was that not flippant, but you can expect a jury to hear about it in precisely those terms."
"And you can expect our objection at that time."
"Fine. Now, may the witness answer the question?"
"No. Rephrase it."
"Why? If she thinks she can't answer it, she'll say so."
"Very well." Colbum turned to Crowe. "Do you feel you can answer that type of question, Ms. Crowe?"
She kept her eyes locked on Phelps. "Yes, I can answer that question. Mr. Prestman was not browbeaten to death in my opinion. He was ill. Had been ill for years. It was only a matter of time."
"So the meeting did not affect his health, in your opinion?"
"Objection. She's no doctor."
Phelps sighed. "Look, Mr. Colbum, this could take all day. Obviously she can form an opinion, even if it's not an expert one."
Colbum shrugged. "Well, with that understanding, she may answer."
Phelps returned his gaze to her. She was smiling slightly, enjoying the fight. "Well, Ms. Crowe? Did the meeting affect his health?"
She tilted her head. "Yes. It killed him." She paused for effect. "Not because he was browbeaten. Because he was stubborn. When the truth of his position became apparent his heart stopped. We didn't kill him, the situation did, I believe."
Phelps kept his eyes locked on her despite Colburn's intake of breath. "Did it have to? Were there not alternate methods of removing him from the case?"
"Objection. Calls for speculation."
"Are you instructing her not to answer?"
"She may answer if she isn't just guessing."
She sighed and for the first time broke eye contact with Phelps. She looked over at Stein who had been watching her steadily since she entered the room. They exchanged a long look.
Then, slowly, she looked at Phelps. "Springer is a weak man, Mr. Phelps. He lost control of the meeting. He was too emotional. Hated what he was doing too much. If he had been an unemotional bastard, he would have done a better job of firing the old fool."
Phelps leaned back regarding her. "He wasn't tough enough? You would have been tougher?"
But Phelps and Crowe had locked unfriendly eyes. Neither would give way. A child's game, but Phelps somehow felt it was important. After several moments she smiled. Eyes on Phelps, she said, "I can answer that, Mr. Colburn. Yes, I would have been tougher. And Prestman would still be alive."
"Alive? If you were tougher? Why? Wouldn't you have simply blasted him off his seat with withering comments?"
"No. I would have told him he was off the case. Period. And that if he didn't like it, he could sue me. Period. No other lawyer would have had to say a thing."
"Such as you?"
"Such as me. And Hinkle. We talked because Springer wouldn't."
"Just answer the question, Ms. Crowe," said Colburn, hand on her arm. She shook him off, hardly glancing at him.
"So you and Hinkle had to do Springer's dirty work for him?"
"No dirty work would have been necessary if Springer had toughed it out. And I didn't do any dirty work. I merely defended a paralegal that Prestman was attacking."
"Yes. The kid was being blamed for everything Prestman was doing wrong. I had to do something."
"And Hinkle mentioned his grandfather, right?"
She blinked. "I admit that was uncalled for. Hinkle's an ass, sometimes."
Colburn's voice was tight. "Just answer the question, Ms. Crowe."
She sighed in exasperation and examined her wedding ring, turning it round and round her finger.
"Why do you feel Hinkle's comment was uncalled for?" Phelps asked, mentally holding his breath.
She met his eyes. "No one likes to be called senile. Especially someone who actually is senile. Hinkle lost his cool. He probably hated his grandpa or something. Anyway, it was uncalled for."
Phelps made a show of reading his notes, gloating internally, knowing Colburn was seething. Outwardly both men sat with bland faces, slightly bored, looking over sheets of paper. Crowe, an expert herself, quickly noted the subtle change. She may have smiled slightly at Stein. Stein removed his glasses and cleaned them with the bottom of his vest.
Suddenly Colburn looked at his watch. "Can we break for lunch now, Bob? I have some calls to make to the office, anyway."
Phelps leaned farther back in his seat. "Sure. One-thirty we resume?"
Colburn was already packing his notes into his briefcase. "Fine. Ms. Crowe, will you lunch with me?"
She straightened her shoulders, stretching them. "Certainly." She rose gracefully, picked up her purse and swayed from the room. Colbum met Phelps' eyes. Inexplicably Colbum grinned and winked. He followed Crowe from the room.
Phelps waited until they were out of earshot then slapped his hand on the desk. "We got them. We got the Bastards."
Stein put his glasses back on. "We have won?"
"No, not yet. But now we have a case. Hinkle lied about what he said. And she says Hinkle attacked Prestman. She says Springer blew the meeting. That's enough so that no motion to dismiss will succeed. That woman just gave us our chance."
Stein slowly stood up and moved to the window. He leaned on the sill as he spoke, looking down to the street. "Do you conclude she did this service for us unknowingly?"
"That woman? Fat chance. She knew precisely what she was doing. Either she wants to screw her former firm or she's really pissed at what they did to Prestman."
"I believe the latter."
Phelps stared at the old man. "You say that? Without more data than her expression? That's unlike the careful doctor I know."
Stein turned and sat in the chair Crowe had just vacated. He smiled. "Yes. I have little time for caution now." Phelps looked down. Stein regarded him a moment. "I do not say that out of a sense of doom or the macabre, Mr. Phelps. Please believe me."
Phelps raised his eyes to his friend. "I do, Doctor. It's just a little difficult for me to hear it. You don't understand my response, I'm sure."
"You conclude that an intellectual machine such as I am would not know how to comprehend your feelings, Mr. Phelps? You deduce this from my initial reaction upon hearing of my imminent death?"
Phelps shrugged, looking away.
Stein paused and when he resumed his voice was softer. "I will miss many aspects of my life. Many." He looked up at Phelps. Their eyes met. "I will miss you, Mr. Phelps."
Stein rose. "I will now eat lunch. You intend to answer calls during this hiatus?"
Phelps was staring at the papers on his desk. He swallowed. "Yes. Be back at one?"
"Yes." Stein hesitated, then walked over to Phelps and put his hand on his shoulder. He squeezed once. Then, without further words, he slowly turned and left the room. Phelps gazed at the sheets of paper in his hands, seeing nothing.
STEIN AND JEFFREY SAT SIDE BY SIDE BEHIND THE DESK, Stein in his usual padded swivel chair, Jeffrey in one of the dining room chairs that Hendrix had brought up at Stein's request. The late afternoon sun cast slanted shadows though the open French windows. Stein was shouting over the telephone in mediocre French while Jeffrey looked on wide-eyed.
As Stein received answers, he quickly wrote on a small pad of paper figures and medical terms in French and German. Then he sat silent, studying the scrawls on the pad. At last he told the doctor to put his niece back on the line.
He broke into English. "Do you understand the results, Martha, or do you want me to translate?"
"I'm not sure what he's telling me, Uncle. I mean, he just keeps mentioning treatments and levels of hormones and things like that. What does it mean?"
Stein glanced at Jeffrey. "Wait a moment. I need to check a text." He heaved himself to his feet and went to one of the shelves across the room. He opened a thick volume, aware of Jeffrey's eyes on him while he leafed through the pages.
Without looking at Jeffrey he walked back to the desk, lifting the receiver. With it in his left hand, he reached out his right hand and took Jeffrey's hand. "It means that Michael will recover, Martha. Completely. It will require about two months..."
He stopped because he had to. Screaming with joy, Jeffrey leapt to his feet and began jumping up and down, small hands grasping Stein's arm. "Uncle! Uncle! Uncle!" he screamed, voice breaking, dancing behind the desk, now grabbing on Stein's hands, pulling him out of the seat. Over the receiver Stein could hear Martha's tiny voice also crying with joy and relief.
Jeffrey took Stein's other hand in his and began to dance. The two of them circled each other, Jeffrey half singing and half yelling, tears streaming down his face.
Stein clumsily hopped about with him, beginning to laugh despite himself. Then, eyes squeezed tight, head thrown back, Stein fully joined in the dance, the old man and the boy, holding hands, dancing round and round, Jeffrey crying and singing, "Uncle, Uncle, Uncle," as they twirled, Stein laughing and watching the joyful boy.
Suddenly, without warning, Jeffrey stopped the dance and clasped his arms around Stein. At his height, his arms spanned Stein's waist. The boy clung tight, head pressed against Stein's massive stomach, weeping, small shoulders shaking, uncontrollable. Stein hesitated, then put his arms around the child. They stood there for several minutes until Jeffrey's breathing slowed.
Stein reached over to the desk, still holding Jeffrey with one arm, and spoke into the receiver. He could hear Martha still crying. "Martha. Are you all right? Ask the doctor there for sedatives."
"I'm fine, fine," she wept. "Let me talk to Jeffrey, please."
With an odd reluctance, Stein gave the receiver to Jeffrey who wiped his cheeks with his hands, listening to his mother, answering in monosyllables.
After several minutes Jeffrey gave the receiver back to Stein. The boy seemed exhausted now, face still wet with tears, eyes half closed. Stein held his shoulder while he spoke with his mother.
Martha was hiccupping. "Uncle, Michael can't go home yet?"
"Unlikely, Martha. There will be additional tests. I expect six weeks before he can leave."
"Well, we can't impose on you that long. I'll call my sister in Alaska..."
"Nonsense. It is no imposition..."
"You're being polite."
"No. Actually, I intend to visit France within the next three weeks. I will bring Jeffrey, if you will allow it. At my expense."
Stein glanced at Jeffrey who was staring at him now, eyes huge. Stein raised his eyebrows. The boy nodded his head violently, beginning to smile, tears starting again.
"That would be too much of an imposition..."
"Martha, stop this. Do you wish to see your son within the next month?"
"Yes, of course..."
"I will call you with details later. Say good-bye to Jeffrey."
He handed the receiver to Jeffrey who chattered excitedly with his mother about the trip. Stein watched the boy for a few moments, then slowly rose and walked out to the little balcony.
The sun on his face felt warm. A cloud was forming near the horizon. Stein studied it and decided it was the shape of an anvil. He watched as it slowly lost its shape, became an amorphous blob. Soft summer wind. Jeffrey came out on the balcony. Without speaking, he leaned against Stein's massive bulk and they silently watched the cloud slowly breaking up.
THE HONORARY DEGREE FROM THE UNIVERSITY AT Munich had been offered to Stein twice before he decided to accept it in 1959. When he finally cabled his consent he advised his colleagues that he was doing it for his mother. She thought it would close a chapter on their past history, would somehow mend the wounds left by the past two decades. She was already too ill to travel to Munich but Stein promised to bring back photographs.
After some thought he decided to fly directly from London to Munich. He had no wish to see more of the "new" Germany than he had to. He simply wanted the ceremony over as soon as possible. It was on the flight that he realized another motivation for his acceptance. It was time to see Eric.
Eric had become chancellor of the university at Munich three years before, a position of remarkable prominence for a man in his forties, even for a man with his connections. A committee of the faculty met Stein's plane, but Eric was not among them. Indeed, it was not until the inevitable cocktail party the night before the ceremony that Stein looked up from an interminable argument about Jung and saw the Chancellor across the room.
Time had not been kind to Eric. His hair was thinning, he was at least twenty pounds overweight, and his once beautiful skin was now flaccid. Only his eyes remained as before, keen and pale blue.
Stein had been putting on weight himself but was still ahead in the battle of exercise versus age. He was about fifteen pounds overweight, but considered that a small amount on a man of his size. And he knew he was a remarkably impressive figure, knew that he intimidated most people he encountered.
A handsome woman with a very large diamond necklace stood before Stein, her left hand holding a drink, her right absently rubbing her husband's arm as she argued vehemently with Stein. Her husband, an assistant professor of economics was smiling apologetically. Stein thought her ideas rather good but her defense of them facile.
"So you see, dear Doctor, psychiatry is yet one more label for the Search. No more, no less. It is not about happiness, it is about discovering the reality that may lead to happiness. Not the same thing."
Stein let his eyelids droop a little. "And if your patient is happier in beliefs that do not conform to reality but are harmless to others?"
She straightened her shoulders. "Then send him to the priest. They are the ones who deal in the art of happy fantasy. You are the ones who seek science in the art of knowing oneself."
Stein smiled. "Madam. You assume the nature of priests does not alter with the era. Once Nietzche killed God, God was replaced with the only other intelligent entity at hand, namely the human mind. i tend the temple of the new god as a vestal virgin... only my personal life is, hopefully, less pure."
She widened her eyes and smiled. Stein felt the faint stirrings of sexual desire. He wondered how she would attempt to evade her husband for the rest of the evening. He wondered if he, himself was truly interested in another affair, even a brief one. He didn't think so. He was playing. He was bored. He grimaced in self disgust and looked up to see Eric staring at him.
Stein watched as Eric excused himself from the couple with whom he had been chatting and made his way through the crowded room towards the now famous psychiatrist.
Eric held out his hand from at least ten feet away, hurrying towards the silent Stein. He spoke in German. "Gerald .You have come back at last. Welcome, welcome."
Stein hesitated an instant, then shook hands, his face impassive. "Eric. I congratulate you on your early achievement of the chancellorship. Remarkable."
Eric rocked back on his heel, beaming. "It is little compared to your many achievements, Doctor. I have read several of your works, though I am but an amateur in your field. But even I can recognize genius."
"You are too kind," replied Stein coldly. For a moment the two men regarded each other, one with a forced smile, the other with cold anger. Slowly Eric's smile faded. Yet his eyes did not falter, did not waver.
Eric opened his mouth to speak but stopped himself. He studied Stein a moment more, then abruptly said, "Come. I wish to speak to you in private in the conference room." He turned to the assistant professor and his wife, voice brisk. "You will excuse us, I'm sure." To Stein, "It is just through those doors."
Used to being obeyed, he moved to the doors without looking back. With a slight smile and nod to the woman, Stein followed. The room contained a highly polished dark table, red velvet conference chairs, and floor to ceiling bookshelves. A fire crackled in a massive fireplace set in the middle of the far wall, two green velvet easy chairs arranged theatrically before the blaze.
Eric settled himself into one of the chairs, motioning Stein to sit across from him. Stein sat, eyes fixed on Eric, and crossed his arms across his chest He said nothing, merely gazed at Eric. Eric met his gaze steadily, almost defiantly.
"Well, Doctor, let us be precise. Do you despise me for my Nazi past, for my failure to assist your family during the time of darkness, or for my involvement with your lovely Elva?"
Stein's eyes narrowed. "Very good, Eric. You do not feint and weave. To answer your query, I despise you for your Nazi past. But I hate you for Elva.
"Not for your involvement with her, though I suppose that undoubtedly still causes jealousy which influences my reactions. No, I hate you for your utter ineptitude. For failing her, abandoning her. In short, I hate you since you are indirectly but ultimately responsible for her death, by sloth or fear." He raised his voice. "You failed to keep your part of the bargain." He stopped speaking. His voice was beginning to tremble.
Eric's brow furrowed. "Failed her? Whatever do you mean? By becoming a Nazi? I became a Nazi long before our brief affair. That was not failing her. Perhaps it was despicable. I think it was. I do not forgive myself. But failing Elva?Bargain? I do not understand."
Stein leaned forward. "Come now. You know why she went back to you, Eric. The second time. Do you have the arrogance to assume that she would risk death merely out of her supposed love for you? That she would become a criminal merely for your love?"
Eric said nothing. Stein spit out the rest. "Did you not understand your side of the bargain, the expected payment for her...services?"
Still, Eric did not immediately answer. He studied Stein, fingers absently drumming the velvet arms. "Second time. Crime. You confuse me. My involvement with her would not have been illegal until...about mid-1938. When the second version of the Race Laws was passed by the Reichstag. You are aware of that?"
"I am referring to November of 1939. My parents and I left a few days before."
"And you say that she came back to me in 1939?"
"Yes. She told me."
Eric ran his hand through his thinning hair. "Did she? Did she now?" He studied the fire for a moment. "Would you be willing to give me the... context of that conversation?"
Stein spoke quickly, words a little slurred. "I was in Switzerland. November, 1939.I was going to come back...to try to help her. She told me not to...that you would offer her a better chance. Her mother and her a better chance. Despite the race laws, you were back together. That...you and she...were together again. As she put it."
Eric was looking at Stein now, eyes half closed. "I see." He sighed and looked back at the fire. "Prague, my friend."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Prague. I was assigned there in Autumn 1938. At the embassy, actually, though that is irrelevant. My first return to Germany was in... it would have been October 1940. And then it was for less than a week. Yes, October, 1940."
Eric continued studying the fire. Neither man spoke for several minutes.
Then Eric met Stein's eyes. "Doctor, I knew your Elva... as man and woman...for less than two months in early 1938. But now...knowing just how remarkable a woman she was...what she did for you...I am glad, indeed, I am proud that I became her lover at all. Remarkable woman. Remarkable."
Stein did not answer. He had closed his eyes, slowly rubbing his hands on the velvet arms of the chair. Eric watched him. "I am sorry, my friend. Sorry. I wish it had happened as she said. Maybe I could have done something. I doubt it..."
Stein glared at him. "Why didn't you help her anyway... at least try?"
Eric smiled bitterly. "You assume that I had such influence? I was under investigation myself. For my leftist days at the university."
"Leftist days. You?"
Eric smiled grimly. 'Yes. I must have read Hegel once or some such thing. I was called to Gestapo Headquarters twice in 1940. Twice in 1941. Three times in 1942. Only my father's position saved me."
He met Stein's gaze now. "Indeed, my friend, our little ruckus on the soccer field was a topic of discussion in one of those meetings. No...no, I could not have helped her. As she very well knew. Even in 1938 we knew I was more of a liability than a help. That is one reason we ended it when the Race Laws passed."
Stein said nothing, eyes on the fire. Eric studied his old friend. "As for my Nazi past...there I will plead guilty. For that, I bear responsibility. Not for choosing evil, for I never accepted their nonsense. No, my friend. My guilt is for not choosing good. For not resisting. For not..."
He sighed and leaned farther back in the chair. "But this is useless. It is merely words. And words which you would not believe or accept in any event." .
Stein blinked. "You are correct, Eric. Words."
Eric smiled. "You would perhaps be amused to know that I often think back to that soccer game. Do you know why?"
Eric leaned forward now. "Because it is the last time I did something in that entire period of hate for which I am proud. Since the end of the war, when I think back on those years...when I despair as to my own soul...I think back on that game and realize that I was not entirely evil, not entirely spineless in opposing those scum."
Stein said nothing for several minutes. Then, "What became of Karl?"
"Died at Kursk."
Stein nodded as if he expected such an answer. The men sat in silence for several minutes more. When Eric next spoke his voice was almost inaudible. Stein leaned forward to hear him over the crackling flames. "Gerald...in one of your works...you write of evil as a mental failure. You use an English word which escapes me now, but the gist of it is that mental health and good acts are compatible while improper acts...evil acts though you do not call them that..are mental aberrations. You say that we are a social animal, an animal only content when interacting beneficially with our fellow beings. Am I correct?"
In a simplified manner, essentially correct."
"Are you married, my friend?"
Stein slowly leaned back. "No."
"Nor am I. Are you content?"
"That is not your concern."
"You are wrong. For you and I are crippled, my friend. Myself no less than you. Perhaps you have lost the ability to trust others. I have lost far more." Stein sat silent.
Eric sighed and spoke softly. "Do you have any idea... any idea at all...what it is like to be the evil one, the caricature in the movies, the strutting, booted man all wish to see destroyed? The infamous bogeyman used to frighten children?" He looked at Stein now. "That was me, Gerald. The SS officer. The man who instills fear, loathing. Me. I chose that. Me." He smiled faintly, remembering.
He closed his eyes and rubbed them with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. "How odd to have chosen such an identity so young. Choosing evil; not cowardice, as Conrad wrote of Lord Jim, but evil. I did not grow old and decay into corruption. Life did not slowly corrupt my idealism. I leaped into evil in youth. And ceased being evil in middle age. A reverse Dorian Grey."
He chuckled. "Now that...that is an exceptional experience, Gerald. That changes one forever...but also affects faith...trust. You, you silently anguish because you can trust no one but yourself. I can trust no one...including myself."
Suddenly he laughed, head thrown back, stomach jiggling. Then he sobered and gave Stein an ironic look. "So now you make the pilgrimage. You discover that Elva is a saint. But..." he leaned forward, intense now, "...tell me, Gerald. Have you discovered what I am? Am I the devil? For the moment disguised as a civilized man, but ready to re-emerge when the circumstances are again right? Or am I the good man who was weak for a few years but is essentially good? Which? What am I?"
He leaned back in the chair, smiling ironically but with a faint expression of hope. "Well, Doctor?"
Stein stood. "You are nothing. For you to be evil would be an improvement. You are...ambitious."
With that he turned and left the room, then the party, and lay in bed in his hotel room most of the night staring at the ceiling, trying to think of nothing.
PHELPS VISITED STEIN AT THE CLINIC WITH THE VARIOUS will and trust forms in his briefcase. It was late Saturday morning. Jeffrey was shopping with Mrs. Santelli and Stein was sitting in his garden feeding the fat carp. Phelps pulled his coat off as he followed Hendrix into the warm garden, grass feeling spongy under his shoes. He threw his coat onto the metal table near the small pool and sat in one of the chairs. Seeing the briefcase, Mrs. Santellishe quickly rose, nodded, and left.
Stein offered him some crusts of bread. "Care to partake in spreading bread upon the waters, Counselor?"
Phelps grinned as he opened the briefcase. "Fortunate fish, Doctor. Receiving benefice from the lawyers and psychiatrists jointly."
"It is likely that they would disagree."
"What do fish know?" Phelps dropped the draft trusts and wills on the metal table, a large stack of cream colored paper.
"You'll have to finish selling your practice if you hope to fund the various trusts you are creating."
"I hope to conclude my negotiations tomorrow. You will draw up the relevant documents?"
"Give me the numbers and I'll give you the papers."
"The cost of such services?"
"Depends on the time required. Two thousand to three thousand is usual."
Phelps leafed through a document or two. "This trust for Jeffrey. That's quite a bit of money for a single relative. And it ignores his parents. You've made up your mind about that?"
"Yes. It is not open for discussion."
"You can do whatever you want, of course. I understand you're fond of the kid. But his parents..."
"Should be delighted that he has benefited from my estate."
Phelps picked up another document. "The trust for the litigation...you do not give enough guidance to the trustees as to actual decision making criteria."
"How can I? I do not know where the litigation will lead over the next five years. I must leave it to their discretion."
Phelps leaned back in the chair. "You still must give some guidance. You once said you merely want revenge. Harassment of those guilty of the death. If that is your goal..."
"It is no longer my goal."
"Fine. What's your purpose now? Monetary reward for the estate?"
Stein stopped breaking bits of bread and stared at the pool of water for a moment before replying. "It is a testament."
"Testament. It is a ritual, if you wish. A ceremony. I wish my friend's death to be a subject for serious concern and discussion for months if not years. I do not wish him...to go quietly into the night."
Phelps smiled. "I see. A cry of defiance before the dark night."
Stein now looked at Phelps with interest. "You surprise me, Mr. Phelps. You immediately grasp my thrust."
"Perhaps. Now let me tell you something you won't want to hear. We will lose. We won't be dismissed since the lovely Crowe gave us enough of a case to go to trial. But once in trial I think we'll lose."
Stein broke off a piece of bread and threw it to a small fish in the far end of the pool. "Why?"Phelps watched the fish.
"Springer. He tried. He tried hard. It was Prestman who forced the confrontation, really I know you don't want to hear that..."
"I am aware of that fact, Mr. Phelps. Indeed, I also tried to dissuade him from continuing with the case." He tossed in the last bread and slowly rose. "Walk in the garden with me, Counselor."
Phelps stood with the old man and they strolled down a gravel path towards a small stand of young redwoods.
"You see, Mr. Phelps, Andrew was foolish to resist appropriate retirement. I know that. So, I suspect, do you. That is not the issue."
Phelps waited for Stein to explain, but the old man seemed content to slowly walk along the path. Finally, a little testily, Phelps asked, "All right. What's the issue, then?"
"The issue is one of dignity. Of respect. If they were required to confront him to force his resignation, it had to be done with respect, not with contempt. With appreciation for all that he had left...his dignity. And the next old man...or woman...they seek to eliminate will be treated quite differently, I am sure." Stein smiled slightly as he walked.
Phelps glanced at the old man but said nothing. Stein continued. "The deterioration suffered by Andrew is inevitable. I suffer from it also but will avoid its grosser implications due to my imminent death."
"Great," muttered Phelps.
Stein gave him a brief glance. "I am not facetious. Dying has been a remarkable experience for me, Mr. Phelps. I continue to marvel at its effect."
Phelps stopped and regarded the old man with suspicion. Stein also halted and faced the lawyer. "I am... examining the process of dying. I do not expect you to understand that. I am not sure I understand it. But I am... enjoying it."
He smiled, turned slowly and continued down the path. Phelps stared at his back a moment, then followed him.
Stein continued speaking, eyes on the path before his feet. "There are those who wish to die without warning in their sleep. To go to sleep never to awaken. I once envisioned that as an appropriate death."
He stopped at a rose bush. With his forefinger he caressed one of the red petals. "However, to have died without warning would have eliminated this opportunity. I would have failed to...experience numerous emotions, to have performed various acts... which I find of remarkable interest."
"You are not afraid?"
"I am afraid. Very. But I was afraid of death before. I am not stupid. And only a fool will not fear the unknown." He looked at Phelps. "Are you afraid of death, Counselor?"
"No. It's too remote."
Phelps smiled. "I like to think so." Stein studied him for a moment, then continued down the path. Over his shoulder he called back, "You are familiar with the trite epitaph placed on numerous old tombstones?
Stop here, my friend, and cast an eye,
As you are now, so once was I,
As I am now, so you will be,
Prepare, my friend, to follow me."
Phelps grinned and shook his head, following the old man down the path to the redwoods.
Stein kept speaking over his shoulder. "So now we may expect the counterattack of the opposition? What will they do?"
Phelps caught up to Stein. "They'll depose the clients of Prestman. Establish that they wanted him off the case. Maybe a judge or two who saw Prestman do badly. Proud and the paralegal will be deposed to say the old guy was incompetent. That sort of thing."
"And you have completed your portion of the case? You will have no further depositions?"
Phelps grinned again. "I didn't say that."
Stein stopped and studied the lawyer. "I well know that tone of voice Mr. Phelps. You have some tactic in mind which you feel will cause disorder and despair in the heart of your opponent. What are your plans?"
Phelps moved past Stein down the path. Stein followed.
Phelps spoke as they passed several azalea bushes. "The firm asserts they had to remove him since he was not up to their standards of professional skill, right? Well, if other counsel in the firm exhibited lack of skill and were not publicly yanked off a case, then we have a classic case of age discrimination, as far as I'm concerned."Stein chewed his lip. "You have evidence of other acts of incompetence by the firm's personnel?"
"Every firm has them. And I've heard some rumors. All we need do is pull in their records of malpractice claims, check the county clerk and see what cases they've lost. Then see what happened to the attorney in charge. I suspect their attorneys...especially the senior ones...were not even reprimanded, much less bludgeoned publicly. No, I suspect Prestman was pilloried because he looked decrepit, not because he was especially incompetent..."
"So, Mr. Phelps, you will use their past acts of compassion to impeach their current act of viciousness? You will punish them for being understanding in the past?"
Phelps blinked. "That's one point of view. One, I admit, that had not occurred to me. I see it as using past good acts to show just how bad their Prestman policy was."
'Prestman policy.' An odd way to put it."
Phelps suddenly seized Stein's arms and turned him around. "You know why they went for him, Doctor? You know why he was such a target? Not because he was losing. Not because he was having client trouble. That happens all the time. They went for him because he looked old and weak and embarrassing. He didn't look tough enough to be a litigator, to be one of the trained gladiators we know as lawyers. It was his image, not his losing, that meant they had to get him out of court."
Phelps again began moving down the path, voice quick and hard. "We lawyers can never look weak, you know, for we're trained bastards, the guys you buy to confront the other side's trained bastards. Human weakness? No way. Always tough, always alert, always ready for battle. If not, dump the poor slob. Hinkle is a perfect example. As is Crowe. Complete assholes, quite ready, willing and able to take on the other guy's asshole. Simple as that."
He stopped and turned, for Stein had stopped following his quick pace down the path. Stein was standing several feet behind him, a small smile on his face. Phelps frowned. "I know that expression, Doctor. So, my analysis is faulty?"
"Atrocious. Both inaccurate and illogical. As you must know, considering your intelligence. I assume the tactical advantage is the true rationale for your approach."
Phelps glared at him for a moment. Then with a slight shrug, “Well I believe it's true. In any event, they'll go berserk."
Stein walked up to Phelps. "Why?"
"It means digging out each and every act of incompetent performance by each and every member of the firm for the past five years. Dragging out each and every partners' meeting notes and seeing what they did about it, how the clients reacted. Every malpractice case. It's called washing dirty linen in public. With every other firm in San Francisco looking on and grinning."
Phelps grinned himself and started down the path again.
"And they can't stop us, Doctor. It's relevant. It's material."
He glanced at Stein. "And it's going to blow their socks off."
Stein nodded and stooped down to pick up a fallen azalea. "Turmoil and despair in their ranks. Mr. Phelps, you rant concerning the perceived requirement to be combative...which you term being a trained bastard, I believe. Yet you glory in it. Relish it."
Phelps colored. "Whatever works, Doctor," he said grimly.
"Yes. So you say. Well, proceed. Cause disorder in the firm. Perhaps they will rethink their prejudices."
"No. They'll merely think that you and I are better bastards than they are and have found their Achilles heel."
Stein put his hand on Phelps' shoulder as they strolled. "And they will be right, Counselor, they will be right." He chuckled, slipped his arm through Phelps' and the two friends entered the small grove of redwoods, the shadows feeling pleasant after the warm sun.
PHELPS STOOD AT THE RECEPTION DESK OF THE rest home watching the secretary check the file cards in her large rolodex. "Mrs. Strauss...let me see." Her voice trailed off as she shuffled the cards. Phelps counted the stones on the numerous necklaces about her neck. He noticed that the stones were chosen to match her blue-white hair.
The automatic doors opened behind him and an ancient, sexless individual was wheeled in by an orderly, the wheelchair squeaking a little as it bumped over the entrance. The orderly, a young Filipina woman, smiled at Phelps, her eyes quickly scanning him. Phelps smiled back, eyeing the occupant of the chair with the morbid fascination he always felt when confronting decrepit old age. The creature was wheeled off down a pastel colored corridor and Phelps turned back to the reception desk.
The woman was still looking through the file cards muttering, "Strauss, Strauss, Strauss...." Suddenly she looked up. "Do you know her social security number? We have a Sarah Strauss but it shows she left the home three months ago."
Phelps shook his head. "Well, would you have her forwarding address?"
"Perhaps...." She swiveled on the chair and opened a file drawer behind her. She began going through manila files. Phelps drummed his fingers on the briefcase he had laid on the reception desk.
The receptionist brightened. "Oh...look here. She isn't in the discharge folders at all." She pulled out an orange folder, laid it on her desk, and ran her finger down a column. She leaned over the folder, then pulled out the rolodex card and laid it on the folder. "Well, that explains that."
Phelps forced a smile. "Really? How nice. What?"
"They transposed two digits on her social security number on the card file. She's still here, all right. On the twelfth floor, Room 1245."
"Fine. Can I see her?"
"Of course. She doesn't have many visitors, you know. Otherwise I'd recognize her name. I know most of our guests."
"That's what we like to call them. Our guests. They like that."
"Twelfth floor. Elevators down that hall?"
"Yes, and to your right."
Across the hall from the elevator doors someone had pinned onto the bulletin board pictures of the home's last July Fourth picnic. Phelps examined them while waiting for the elevator. At least thirty wheelchairs on a very green lawn, maybe another dozen individuals on walkers, a dozen standing about, all arranged in a rough circle about a middle-aged man with a megaphone and a baseball cap. Several nurses and orderlies were interspersed among the elderly. The middle-aged man was smiling. So were a few of the old people. The elevator arrived.
When the doors opened on the twelfth floor Phelps was suddenly confronted by a large picture window with a spectacular view. The window was tinted and of that thick glass that is stronger than steel, the type of glass they were now using on all high-rises. The various dwellings that were slowly being shoved aside by the expanding rest home seemed tiny from this height and he could see the Bay in the distance over the Oakland flatlands. Across the bay he could see the Golden Gate Bridge in the far distance, the towers of the city to its south.
"You like that, don't you?" A man in a walker grinned at him. He shuffled over to Phelps, still grinning. "Everyone likes it. It's the best view on the floor. That way, the visitors get it. We don't."
Phelps blinked. "You don't have a window?"
"Sure do. But it faces the south wing. We get to look at other old farts looking back at us." He wheezed a little in laughter. "Who you here to see, son?"
The old man leaned far back in his walker to look up at Phelps. "You're too young to be Stein."
Phelps grinned. "I hope so. He's seventy-eight years old."
"That's nothing. I'm eighty-two."
"Well, maybe I'll get there sometime. Which way is her room?"
"You Stein's relative?"
"No. Which way is her room?"
"'Cause he never visits her, you know. She's been waiting. She told me. I've been here six years. I'm one of the first patients. I know this floor. And he's never even visited once."
"Really? Well, I'm here to see her. So, is she...?"
"Course, I was in surgery twice. That means I would be on the fourth floor. Total of nine weeks on that floor. He could have seen her when I was down there. But she didn't mention it."
"Well, nice meeting you. Good day." Phelps moved past him down the corridor, careful not to brush him with his briefcase.
The old man shouted after him, "Seems to me that if you're going to pay to keep someone in this high-priced dump you ought to visit them sometime. You might tell him that. Don't seem right." His voice trailed off as he shuffled back to his regular post near the elevator doors, ready for the next visitor.
Room 1245 was down a very long corridor. The door was open. It was a private room, small, a twin bed, two small dressers, a television, a stereo, and, remarkably, a massive and ornate armoire taking up an entire wall. Despite what the old man had said, she had a lovely view almost the same as the one near the elevators, her window also of tinted thick glass, never to be opened.
She was sitting in a small easy chair staring out the window some knitting ignored on her lap. A large blue shawl covered her lap, another shawl covered her shoulders. Her snow-white hair was piled high on her head, glasses on a ribbon hanging on her ample bosom. She appeared to be in her late sixties, young to have been in such a place for years. The eyes she directed at Phelps were alert and intelligent. He saw the walker against the bed and realized that she was crippled.
"Mrs. Strauss. My name is Bob Phelps. I'm Doctor Stein's attorney. May I come in?"
She tensed. "Gerald?" She blinked in confusion for a few moments, hands fumbling in her lap at the knitting. "Gerald? But he hasn't...he's not here?"
"No. I'm his attorney."
She stared at him blankly a moment, trying to collect herself. "His attorney. Is he all right? Has he...?" She swallowed, not daring to finish the sentence.
"He's alive, Mrs. Strauss. He asked me to see you. May I come in?"
Her face calmed and a slight smile appeared. "You're in, young man. Please sit down. The bed's the only place, I'm afraid."
"That's fine." He moved to the bed.
"I'd like a nice looking young man to sit on my bed." As he sat Phelps glanced at her in surprise but she was smiling pleasantly, appearing very grandmotherly.
"Mrs. Strauss, Dr. Stein has been my client for almost fifteen years now. I'm currently preparing his estate plan..."
"We always recommend our clients planning their estates before they become ill. One aspect of our planning involves the creation of various trusts to take care of various persons in the event of death."
"Is he ill?"
"Anyone in his late seventies should be doing this type of planning, Madam. Now, you are aware that Dr. Stein has been responsible for the payments for this home as well as miscellaneous expenses for the past six years. And prior to that time I believe he assisted you..."
"Yes, yes. How is his health?"
"You assume ill health when all we are doing is preparing his estate plan."
She studied his face. "You're very good, young man. Very good. I can understand why Gerald uses you. Is it terminal?"
Phelps opened his briefcase which was lying on the bed next to him. "I am not permitted to discuss my client's personal affairs with anyone without prior permission, Mrs. Strauss. Even if he was ill, I could not tell you." He pulled out some papers, closed the case, and piled the papers on his lap. He looked at her.
She had tilted her head slightly, her eyes locked on his face."I see." Finally she looked down at the knitting in her
lap. "I see." She sighed. “How sad. How very sad. And he never came."
"I always thought he'd come to see me, eventually. But he didn't. Now he won't. Ever." She closed her eyes.
Phelps paused a little uncertain. Then he plowed on. "Mrs. Strauss, one of my tasks is to create a trust to pay what expenses we can expect on a monthly basis and, if you'd like, the ability to travel once or twice a year."
"He sent you? Did he...did he think of coming himself?"
"He didn't mention that to me, Mrs. Strauss." She bit her lip. "It makes sense for me to be the one to get these facts, Madam. I'll be the one drawing up the papers."
"How does he look? I don't suppose you have a picture?"
"No. Of course you wouldn't." She brightened. "I do have a somewhat recent picture. From the back of his last book. But that's five years ago and I think the picture's a good fifteen years old."
"I wouldn't know."
"Men are so vain, sometimes. You'd think he'd let them use a recent photo. Especially Gerald. I mean, it's his mind that attracted all the women. Including me, of course. That wonderful mind..." her voice faltered and stopped.
Phelps began again, brisk. "In any event, the doctor was adamant that I ask you if you'd like a trip back to Canada annually. Back home. There's plenty of resources to pay for it and..."
"We met in Montreal, of course. Did he tell you?"
"No. No, he didn't."
"He was very handsome then. But then, I was very pretty. At least I think I was. Just after my second marriage." She looked thoughtfully at the armoire. "He said it was my sexual peak."
Phelps blinked. "Mrs. Strauss?"
"Thirty-six. My age. He said that it was my sexual peak. I always told him that it was him, but he said it was physical. Hormones or something." She turned her gaze to Phelps. "But he was wrong. It was him. It was love."
"I'm sure. Now, do you feel that you'd like to travel to Canada about once a year?"
"And he must have been beyond his sexual peak. I mean, he was in his fifties: Maybe even late fifties, I never knew. And men have their sexual peak very early, don't they?"
"I wouldn't know."
"You don't?" She stared at him. "Didn't you notice? I'd think you'd notice something like that."
Phelps grinned, looking through the papers in his hand. "You were teaching at the university at Montreal, Mrs. Strauss?"
She leaned far back, hands absently caressing the knitting needles. "Yes, yes. I had just been published. A very nice history of the Venetian ghetto. At least, I thought it was. He was at a symposium, but that's not why we met, really."
"No. I wasn't at the symposium. He came to see me to tell me I was a fool." She giggled, blushing at the memory. "He had read the book, you see, and went searching about our building, looking for the office of "S. Strauss" to tell the author that he was an idiot."
"Me. And he picked a bad time. I was in my office proofing the galleys for my second work. And it was a mess. And I had just hung up the phone on my divorce lawyer. So here's this banging on my door and I open it and he storms in asking to see that fatuous ass Strauss. You see, he thought I was Strauss' research clerk." She smiled and looked out the window.
Phelps shuffled the papers in his lap.
"Hormones," she muttered to herself. "So brilliant, yet a fool."
She sighed and looked at Phelps, forcing a smile. "Now, what were you saying, young man?"
"Canada. Do you want the trust to provide a trip there annually?"
She considered for a moment, studying her knitting. "Not really. I haven't been back there in over ten years. No family left now. No, no thank you. It's not necessary." She smiled a little sadly. "I like it in my memory, now. That's the best place for it." She continued staring into space.
Phelps cleared his throat. "Would you care to travel anywhere else? We could arrange..."
"You'd think a man as smart as he was, as sensitive, would know that. Would know I wouldn't want to go back. To where we..." She shook her head a little and smiled. "He loved me. He didn't even know it and he loved me.
"Once, on his fifth visit, he was ready to propose. I could tell. He hemmed and hawed and blushed and made the dumbest statements about trivialities. And nervous. He was so jumpy he couldn't sit still."
Phelps grinned. "I would have liked to see that."
She grinned back. "Half of the university community would have liked to see that. Everyone knew we were seeing each other. My department head even took me aside and told me that if and when we got married I shouldn't give up my career. I mean, we were an item." She laughed. "God, if only he knew how they were all talking about him. About us. He would have died."
"He never found out?"
Her smiled faded. "No, no. It...ended before that. Before anything really public."
Phelps wanted to know why it ended but couldn't bring himself to ask. He waited a few moments, then asked, "So, you don't want any travel rights in the trust?"
"No. It's hard for me to travel now. You've known him for fifteen years, you said?"
"Did he...ever mention me?"
Phelps felt uncomfortable. "Well, we didn't discuss very personal things..."
Her voice hardened. "Gerald never discusses personal things. Even when the baby died...even then, on the phone. He acted like a doctor. Acted as if I was a patient asking for his advice...the bastard." She stared at the floor.
Phelps licked his lips. "I don't know any thing...about all this, Mrs. Strauss."
"Too late," he told me. "Too late." I think he was glad our baby died. He never said it but I think he was glad. And then the accident within a week."
She nodded to the walker. "Broken hip. Car accident. While we were arguing in the car. I was driving. I was crying. Hysterical. About the baby. About the miscarriage. And he was cold. So cold. As if he was a million miles away. As if he hated me." She rested her head on her hands. "God, it seems so recent. But it was...almost thirty years ago. So long..."
"Your hip didn't mend?"
"A little. But then arthritis acted up. Maybe fifteen years ago. That happens with some injuries, you know."
She looked at the walker and sighed. "And...somehow, I couldn't really fend for myself, then. Somehow...I needed to be here. I just couldn't adjust as well as I hoped. But he didn't tell you any of this?"
"Well, it doesn't really matter. I mean, it's ancient history." She picked up her needles and slowly began to knit. "Yes, ancient history. It wouldn't have worked, anyway. Even without the baby. Or the accident."
"No. That was just an excuse. I guess I knew it. It wouldn't have worked." She suddenly looked up at Phelps.
"You see, you can't really love if you can't take risks. You can't be safe and love." She laughed. "Look at me. That's proof."
"And the doctor couldn't take risks?"
"Couldn't. Or wouldn't. At least, not the kind of risks love requires." She looked out the window. "Such a brave man, really. Intellectually. And physically, too, if you'd ever seen him ski. But...not emotionally. No risks there." She glanced at Phelps. "Just hormones, Mr. Phelps. No risk there. Just hormones."
She smiled and began to knit again. Phelps studied her for a few moments, then began to pack his papers. She watched him out of the corner of her eye, then smiled slyly. "But he ended up liking my books. All of them. Despite himself." She knitted away, still smiling.
THE HARE KRISHNA CHANTERS FORMED A SMALL CIRCLE ABOUT Stein and Jeffrey near the airline ticket counter. Hendrix was off checking the baggage while Mrs. Santelli had decided at the last minute to buy some magazines for Jeffrey to read on the plane. So Jeffrey and Stein were unescorted when the orange clad young men and women began their chanting dance about them, small cymbals clinking on their hands, bells ringing on their feet. Jeffrey smiled as he watched them, wide-eyed. Stein's face was impassive.
Jeffrey moved a little closer to Stein as the dancers closed their circle. One of them, a young man whose shaved head glistened in the overhead neon lighting of the airport, gave a beneficent smile to Stein and slowly waved a small basket before Stein's stomach.
Stein's eyelids drooped. "I am an adherent of Shiva the Destroyer, young man. No state of grace whatsoever. Be gone."
With that he gently but firmly extricated himself and Jeffrey from the bouncing circle of young people and moved slightly ahead in line.
He then glared at the young man who, smiling but not speaking, nodded and rejoined the others who formed a single line and rapidly chanted off. Jeffrey looked up and to his surprise saw that Stein was chuckling, his large stomach jiggling despite his efforts to control himself.
"Uncle." he said. "You didn't mean it. You chased them off for a joke."
"Quite, my boy. But if they cannot counter my feeble adherence to Shiva, it is best they engage in additional indoctrination." He chuckled some more.
"Well, I liked them. I liked their dancing. It was neat. Were they praying?"
"It is merely a post-industrial imitation of Hassidim who, unlike these innocents, possess a consistent and rational justification for their doctrine. And do not beg in airports, I might add."
"Hassidim? Are they like Hare Krishnas?"
Stein looked at the boy in surprise. "Your parents have not educated you in the various sects of your religion?"
Jeffrey looked down. "We don't talk about those things a lot. I go to Sunday school. We're Reform."
"And does not your school have comparative religious studies?"
Jeffrey looked increasingly uncomfortable. "Well, maybe. I mean, our classes are sort of...relaxed. It's Sunday, and it's not like regular school. Anyway, what are Hassodics?"
"Hassidim. Jews who pray by dancing and singing their praise of God. They dance in a circle, presumably with joy,
singing their prayer. If you examine historical precedents, you will note that David, upon entering the Holy City, did so singing and dancing, as did Esau when again meeting Jacob..."
"They exist now? Singing and dancing like Hare Krishna?"
"No, very different. They pray in temples, dancing in a circle usually, not really chanting, bouncing up and down like..."
"...Like we did when I learned that Daddy was OK."
Stein looked down at the boy. "Yes. Yes, I suppose so. Only praying while they do that."
They were almost in the front of the line now. Jeffrey was studying the back of the next person in line thoughtfully. "Why don't other Jews pray that way?"
Stein shrugged. "Different sects pray in different ways, Jeffrey."
"How do you pray?"
Stein paused before answering. "I do not."
Jeffrey looked up at him. "Neither do I."
"You do not believe in God, Jeffrey?"
"Sure I do. I just don't think he wants to listen to all of us asking for things all the time. And complaining. I mean, he made the world. I think that's enough."
"Sure. How much can we expect of him?"
Stein smiled then. "How much, indeed?"
They came to the front of the line. Jeffrey was not done discussing theology. "When I'm in Temple and I listen to all the prayers, it seems like all we're doing is asking for stuff and then telling God how wonderful he is. I mean, have you ever really listened to the prayers? All we say is ‘You’re so wise', and 'You're so merciful', and then we say give us peace or bread or happiness. It's like we're begging and flattering God. I don't like it."
"Neither do I."
"And if God is so wonderful, why does he have to hear us tell him that all the time? Doesn't he get bored hearing about how wonderful he is?"
Stein reached into his breast pocket for the tickets as they came to the front of the line. "Well, Jeffrey, what should be the content of the prayers?"
Jeffrey shrugged. "I don't know. It just doesn't seem right to beg like that." He watched as Stein selected seats on the plane, tapping his leg against the counter. As Stein turned away from the counter Jeffrey said, "I don't think you should talk at all. In prayers, I mean. You should think. Or maybe just sing, like the Hassidoc."
"Yeah. Or like the people in the orange robes."
"Yeah, I know. Like them."
"No intellectual content at all, Jeffrey? Just singing and chanting? You feel the intellect has no place in prayer?"
Jeffrey looked thoughtful and did not answer. Mrs. Santelli approached them, a small stack of magazines clutched in her hands. "I got some for both of you." She divided the stack, handing three to Jeffrey and one to Stein. Jeffrey leafed through the brightly colored pages.
"Thanks, Mrs. Santelli."
"You do like performance bikes, don't you?"
"And all boys like baseball. I know that."
She studied him a moment, blinking rapidly. She unconsciously brushed his hair back while speaking to Stein.
"You're a lot more difficult, Doctor. You do like science?"
Stein examined the magazine in his hand. "Yes. This appears quite interesting. Thank you."
"There's an article in there on heart attacks and diet. And another on the new space station."
"I look forward to reading it."
She stopped brushing Jeffrey's hair but kept her hand on his head, looking at him. "Now, don't you be tiring your Dad out. He's going to be pretty weak after all this."
"Yes, Mrs. Santelli."
"And I know you won't write so I won't even ask."
"No, you won't. But you just remember that if you come out to visit your uncle again, I want to see you. I'll...miss you."
Jeffrey didn't answer, just looked at her. Then he hugged her hard. She hugged back, smiling at Stein, eyes wet. "He's my big, brave young man, Doctor. He was wonderful. He prayed for his daddy every night." She hugged him very hard then pushed him away.
Hendrix had arrived and formally shook hands with Jeffrey. "Pleasure to have known you, Master Stein."
"Thank you, Mr. Hendrix."
Hendrix turned to Stein. "No more than four weeks, sir. After that I'll be having trouble with the patients."
"Four weeks, Hendrix. I will phone you weekly. You may depend upon it."
Hendrix was examining Stein's face closely. "I will, sir, I will. Four weeks. Then home."
"Let's go," Mrs. Santelli said rapidly, putting her arm through Hendrix's and pulling him away. She didn't look back. The old man and boy watched them hurry away.
Jeffrey was the first to speak, voice quite calm. "She's hurrying away so we won't see her cry."
"She's a nice lady."
"She grew quite fond of you."
They slowly walked to the departure gate. "Uncle, are there Hassidim in France?"
"Yes, I believe so."
"Can we go look at them?"
"Yes. Yes, we can."
"Will you...will you stay with us in Tours? At the hospital?"
"For a time, Jeffrey. At least ten days."
Jeffrey walked in silence as they approached the metal detector. "I was thinking you might like to see my house. My room, I mean. In Connecticut. Maybe you could stop off on your way home."
Stein looked at Jeffrey as they waited in line before the metal detector. "I am not sure the timing will be right. It depends when your father is allowed to travel."
"Well, if the timing is right, will you?"
Stein put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "It would be enjoyable for me, Jeffrey. Let us see if the timing allows it." They walked through the metal detector with no alarms sounding.
STEIN'S SCIENCE MAGAZINE HAD A LONG ARTICLE ON THE EFFECT OF air bags on vehicle safety. It was poorly written and the scientific jargon annoyed him. Multicolored charts and spectacular pictures of car wrecks adorned the pages instead of the hard, dry scientific data Stein would have desired to truly evaluate the devices. As they taxied for takeoff, Stein realized that he had been in only one automobile accident, the one which had crippled Sarah. That was long before airbags in autos. Indeed, it was before seatbelts were standard.
When Sarah hit the road divider the car bounced off and slammed into a pickup truck in the slow lane. Both vehicles went off the road and into a six foot ditch along the side. Somehow, Stein was thrown completely out of the car through the passenger door and regained consciousness about fifteen feet from the overturned vehicle.
It was night and the streetlamp's light was blocked by the angle of the embankment. The truck had also overturned and the two vehicles lay end to end, upside down, the truck's rear wheels still slowly revolving.
Stein was lying on his face. He pushed up and saw the wrecks. With a grunt he shoved himself up to his knees, then felt a wave of nausea and fell back down on his face. He was sick.
He rose again and staggered towards the overturned Chrysler. He half fell against the car, then slipped down to his knees to look into the smashed window.
Sarah was unconscious crumpled behind the steering wheel. It was too dark to make out details. He realized that he could hear dripping. A liquid dripping. His first thought was that gasoline was leaking, that a fire could break out. Then he realized that it was coming from where Sarah was pinned behind the wheel. It was her blood.
With a cry of anguish Stein pulled on the door. It was jammed. He heard a scraping sound from the truck. Its door slowly opened and the figure of a young man crawled out. Stein staggered over to him. The man was standing unsteadily near the truck, leaning against it.
"Flashlight." Stein ordered. "Get one."
The man looked at him in bewilderment. Then he pointed to the cab of the truck. "Glove box," he muttered.
Stein shoved him aside, leaned into the crumpled cab, pulled out the flashlight and stumbled back to the car, to the driver's side, kneeling down.
Sarah was a mess. The windshield had shattered over her face and neck and blood was everywhere. Stein professionally noted that these wounds were superficial. He was more concerned with the angle of her torso. And the column of the steering wheel which seemed thrust into her hip.
The young man had come over to the car. "Is she all right?"
"No. Can you walk?"
"Yeah. We should get her out."
"No. She is injured badly. I'm a doctor. Go up to the road and get help."
"Right." He climbed up the embankment.
Stein knelt by the window and tore sections from his shirt and began to stem the flow of her blood. He moved automatically, expertly, mind blank. She came to as he was bandaging a laceration on her left shoulder.
She moaned. He spoke loudly. "Do not move, Sarah. You may injure yourself more."
"Yes. I'm here. Help is on the way. Do not move."
"I'm upside down, aren't I?"
"The car is. Do not move. Are you in pain?"
"I'm not sure. My arm hurts."
"That is not serious. Try to breathe deeply. I will keep bandaging you."
She may have smiled. "Good to have a doctor here."
He didn't reply, carefully adjusting another strip of cloth over one of her hands.
A few moments later she softly asked, "Are you all right, darling?"
"I think so. Do not talk."
She laughed. "You've always wanted to say that to me."
He smiled, feeling the blood caked on his lips break. "Yes. The silver lining."
"Can you hold my hand?"
"No. Do not move."
"I want you to hold my hand."
"It's too dangerous. Do not..."
"No," she cried, voice quivering. "I want that. Now. Do it or I'll move more."
After a moment's hesitation he reached into the window and held her bandaged hand. He was furious but kept his face angled away so that she would not see in the dim light of the flashlight.
Several more minutes passed. When next she spoke her voice was a little vague as if she were drugged. "I love you, Gerald." He said nothing. She continued, "I love you so much. If I'm going to die, I want you to know that."
"You're not going to die."
"You don't know that. It's too dark for you to know anything. You think you know so much, but it's too dark. Too dark..."
"Do not speak."
"You think all your training helps, you know. But you don't know what really matters. Or you know and don't want to know."
She began to cry. He grunted in exasperation, eyes scanning the roadway above with impatience. After a few more minutes she fell into unconsciousness.
Once she lost consciousness Stein let her hand drop and stood. He immediately felt dizzy and leaned against the car. He heard a siren approaching. Automatically he began feeling his body, looking for injuries. When he came to his face he stopped in surprise. Wetness. He felt no pain. He slowly felt his cheek and examined his hand. It was not blood but tears. He stared at his hands, then slowly wiped them on his torn pants.
PHELPS STOOD TO REPLY WHILE COLBURN SAT AND started taking notes. Judge Bledsoe stared at Phelps with that look of bored exasperation he habitually wore during discovery disputes between counsel.
Phelps ignored the look and launched into his argument. "Mr. Colbum accuses us of proposing a fishing expedition, of attempting to embarrass his client-firm. I will not dwell on the implication inherent in his argument that the firm must be hiding some rather embarrassing moments or we would not be arguing here today.
"Instead, I will concentrate on the clear fact that we cannot possibly know if Mr. Prestman was singled out for especially brutal treatment unless we can compare it to treatment meted out to other counsel in the firm. The essence of age discrimination is differential treatment. I pose the question as to how we can determine if there is differential treatment if we are not allowed access to their employee records and client complaints?"
The judge interrupted Phelps, looking over at Colbum. "His argument is persuasive, Mr. Colbum. Aside from worry about embarrassment, do you have any real objection to the rationale of Mr. Phelps' proposed inquiry?"
Colbum rose. "Of course we do, Your Honor. How can they compare the unfortunate death of Mr. Prestman to reprimand procedure for other counsel? In one case we have a death. In the other, a letter in a file. What does one have to do with the other?"
"It's obvious," Phelps volunteered. "If your policies were unique with Mr. Prestman, you discriminated. And such discrimination can be proven in your records."
"At major embarrassment to the firm."
"Mr. Prestman suffered some major embarrassment as well, Mr. Colbum. What's sauce for the goose..."
Bored, Judge Bledsoe interrupted. "Enough, Counsel. Mr. Phelps, you may have access as you request, but I don't want the information to become public knowledge. I assume you will use discretion."
Colburn's voice was tight. "Your Honor, we'd like an order restricting use of the information, keeping it confidential."
Phelps spread his hands. "Most of this information is public record already. Complaints filed in court against the firm. Interoffice memos. Letters to malpractice insurance carriers..."
Judge Bledsoe was already opening the next file. "Anything remarkably dangerous to the firm's reputation may be ordered confidential, but I invite you to bring such a motion if and when such information is actually obtained. Next case, Clerk."
Colbum dropped his hand which he had raised for emphasis, glared at the bench, and began packing his papers. Phelps was already halfway back to the rear door. He waited for Colbum out in the hall.
"Don't look so upset, Mr. Colbum. You knew you didn't have a chance."
"Hell, that judge can grant your motion and still make you hate him. Want some coffee?"
Phelps knew this was the beginning of an offer of settlement, so he agreed. They took the elevator down to
the sterile coffee shop in the basement of the courthouse.
They talked softly over styrofoam cups of burnt coffee watching the various lawyers, clients and courthouse personnel at the other tables.
"OK, Bob, have you given more thought to getting rid of this case?"
"We're still waiting on a counter-offer from you guys. Last offer we made you smirked and walked away."
"I'm surprised you could make it with a straight face."
"I'm prepared to do just that. How does fifty thousand dollars to the estate, payable over three years, ten percent interest sound?"
"Paltry. You've already spent that on attorneys' fees."
"He was an old man. His earning loss in minimal."
"You're right. It's punitives or nothing when we get to the jury."
"Punitive damages, bullshit. Do you think you have a snowball's chance in hell for those?"
"You bet we do. After what Crowe said..."
"That woman just wanted to give Springer a hard time. She left the firm on...not very friendly terms. As we will advise the jury."
"She's lucky. Some people don't leave the firm alive."
Colbum flushed, then smiled. "Touché. The jury will love that crap. But between you and me, you ain't gonna get shit, and you know it."
Phelps sipped his coffee and was silent. Colbum locked his eyes on his, then began to study the cup he was slowly spinning on the table. "You ever meet Andrew Prestman, Bob?"
"A few times. Even had a case against him about fifteen years back. A gentleman."
"Yes. Yes, he was." He gazed at the people at the other tables. "And a mediocre attorney at his best."
"He went to the Supreme Court."
"That simply means he had a case that went there. Not that he was especially good. And he wasn't. I had a couple of cases against him. And they stretch back quite a ways. He was all right. Not bad. But no Nizer, believe me."
"So, when he began to lose it, he went from medium to bad real quick. They had to get him off the case. Had to. Jesus, Von Hedern was opposing counsel. You ever go against him?"
"Well, I have. Better lawyer than me. And better lawyer than you."
Phelps grinned. "Well, that's why I'm still working to build my reputation. On this case."
Colbum grinned back, but his eyes were cold. "Well, good luck. You're going to lose, Phelps. Lose bad."
"That fifty thousand your final offer, Colbum?"
"I can go to sixty thousand."
"Go to a million in a foundation for the elderly and we have something to talk about."
Phelps finished the coffee and stood. "I am. And so is the executor."
"He's as old and senile as Prestman was. You've got to control him, Phelps."
Phelps' face darkened. "He happens to be a friend of mine, Colbum. Watch it." He picked up the briefcase and turned to the door. " ...I don't control my clients even if they're elderly. I like to think they know what they're doing. Even if they're old."
Colbum was also standing up. "That's good. 'Cause you sure as hell don't."
"Thanks for the coffee, Colbum."
Neither smiled as they parted.
THE MAGAZINE LAY FORGOTTEN IN STEIN'S LAP. Jeffrey was watching the movie on the small screen at the front of the airliner's cabin. On the screen the handsome actor had just smashed his fist into the face of an equally handsome but somehow disreputable villain who spun around and collapsed in an unconscious heap.
Stein was trying to remember a name. Barbara. That was it. That was the name Sarah had flung at him in the hospital room. Barbara.
"You can hardly stand being here for ten minutes," Sarah had snapped at Stein, voice quivering despite herself.The stitches on the lacerations about her shoulders seemed very red in the neon light of the hospital. The nurse, who had been about to take Sarah down the hall for physical therapy glanced at the two of them and found some reason to leave the room.
Stein sighed and sat on the side of the bed. "It has been two months, Sarah. You are healing nicely. My practice cannot survive a prolonged absence. You know that. You knew I would have to go back to California."
She swallowed and stared at the walker in the comer. She had gained weight in the hospital due to the forced inactivity. She was no longer very pretty. And the accident had aged her. Stein felt that the two months since the accident had aged her ten years. Along with the scars on her face and neck.
He rose and walked to the doorway, leaning against the sill. Except for a slight stiffness as he walked, it was as if it had had no accident, she concluded bitterly. It wasn't fair.
She sighed and tried to sound less bitter. "Well. So you're off tomorrow. Well, I hope to be out of here in another three weeks in any event. It's just as well you're going back."
He looked at her and said nothing. She wouldn't meet his eyes. After a moment, he spoke. "The accident was unfortunate but did not change the underlying problems we faced, Sarah."
"And now I'm a cripple. No more hormones, right?"
"Stop that nonsense. You will recover completely, I'm sure."
"But not fast enough for the great doctor. It would be, what? Four months. Too long for you. I know you. Who is she?"
"It's Barbara, isn't it? Bollinger's research clerk? I saw the way she looked at you."
"I will leave now if you continue this."
She began to cry again. "You're leaving tomorrow anyway. And I tried to call you last night. After ten. Where were you?"
His eyes bulged. "I will not be made subject to your jealousy. Or to having my schedule approved and confirmed by you. Do you understand that?"
Her hands were fists now. She was almost bouncing on the bed. "Oh, I understand completely. She's young, isn't she? Twenty five? If that. How can you do this to me?"
Suddenly she cried out in pain as her movements proved too much for her hip. The nurse rushed in, squeezed past Stein and began fiddling with Sarah's covered legs while Sarah moaned quietly, tears still coursing down her face.
The nurse gave him an unfriendly look. "I'll have to give her a shot now, Doctor Stein. Please leave."
He nodded, face set, and moved into the hall. He stood there indecisively for a few minutes, then suddenly turned and hurried down the hall to the financial office of the hospital. He knocked on the door and entered without pause.
Behind the small wooden desk sat a middle-aged woman eating a small salad. On the desk before her was a crossword puzzle half filled in. She had once been beautiful and was still pretty. Her eyes widened at his large size. "Yes? Can I help you?"
His eyes flickered to the papers before her. "Concilium," he said.
"Nine-letter word meaning a Roman meeting of the people to decide matters concerning their own fate. Twenty-three across."
She stared at him a moment, then looked down at the puzzle. "Oh. Oh, you're right."
"I would like to make payment arrangements in advance for one of your patients. Sarah Strauss."
"These puzzles are very difficult. They're from the university, really. My husband brings them home."
"Yes. Her name is Sarah Strauss. I must leave town today and wish to arrange for paying her costs."
"What's your billing address, Mr. Strauss?"
"I'm Doctor Gerald Stein. I will be paying all her expenses."
She studied him with a slight smile. "Oh. I see. Well, what's your address, Doctor Stein?"
He gave her the relevant information and a five thousand dollar deposit, more than enough for the rest of Sarah's anticipated stay. As he finished signing the check she leaned back in her chair and studied his face. "You were at the symposium, weren't you? The one last year?"
Stein stood, looking surprised. "Yes. You were there?"
"My husband took me. He's in political science." She smiled. "I should have recognized you right away. You're so big."
"Well, it was over a year ago. Do you need anything else?"
"That should do it, Doctor Stein. I wish I had my copy of your book here. So I could get an autograph."
"Well, maybe next time."
He pushed the door open and hurried to the elevators. He stopped when he saw the nurse waiting for an elevator, a small pad of paper in her hand. He decided to brave it out and went and stood beside her. She glanced at him, face stiffening.
nnoyed, he calmly said, "Good afternoon."
"Yes. She received a tranquilizer?"
"Yes." Her eyes narrowed. "It was needed."
"I noticed." He returned her look without blinking. They entered the elevator.
In the lobby he stopped at the phone booth to return Barbara's call from that morning. She wasn't in, her roommate said. Did he want to leave a message? Stein hesitated. "No, no thank you. I'll call back."
He never did.
IT WAS STEIN'S CONTINUED FINANCIAL SUPPORT OF SARAH STRAUSS over the years that almost destroyed his friendship with Prestman. Stein had known Prestman for only five years or so when they had the argument about Sarah. By then they had already established their traditional Tuesday luncheons.
They had originally met at a conference on mental abnormality and the law at which Stein publicly mocked Prestman's naive faith in the "science" of psychiatry.
They sat at a table of six experts before a bored audience of perhaps one hundred attorneys who had come to San
Francisco for a nice weekend with the wives and who had to attend the lectures to write off me trip. The organizer of the conference was a patient of Stein who had talked him into participating. It was to be the first and last such conference in which Stein would ever agree to participate.
Prestman was explaining to the audience about the ability of certain persons of schizophrenic nature to confuse lie detectors, reading from a short paper he had written for the San Francisco Bar Journal. Suddenly he turned to Stein and asked in a theatrically loud voice, "But I assume that a psychiatrist, viewing such an individual, would be able to generate a trained opinion concerning his mental health?"
Stein was jolted from his day dream by the sudden question. "You must be joking, “he blurted. Prestman blushed. Stein ignored it. "The term, ‘trained psychiatrist,’ is, in and of itself, a problematical concept. Are they trained to observe or trained to treat? And if trained to observe, does that not necessarily negate, to some extent, the latter function? A doctor does not intimately know bacteria; he knows how to destroy it. Likewise, a psychiatrist may know the symptoms of a disease, but once identified, he no longer seeks to understand it, merely eliminate it. Thus..."
"Thank you very much, Doctor." Prestman interrupted. "So we see that mechanical devices are not necessarily foolproof..."
tein listened to him drone on with wry amusement That should be the last question he would have dropped on him.
But in the hallway after the session Prestman took him aside, face very serious. "My wife's mother has been diagnosed as schizophrenic, Doctor. Two years ago. By a man I consider a cruel quack. It damned near killed my wife."
"I imagine so."
"Your words hit home. They can't really know about a person's character from mere observation, can they? I mean, is it right to label someone like that?"
"You wish a brief answer, Mr. Prestman?"
"Very well. I do not know."
Prestman stared at him for a moment. "But, you're a world authority. You're the one all the books quote."
Stein smiled. "Quite."
For a moment longer Prestman stared at Stein. Then, slowly, he smiled. Then he chuckled. "Doctor, you've made my day. May I buy you lunch?"
"If it is expensive."
"It will be." Laughing, he put his hand on Stein's elbow and they had their first lunch together.
Five years later they almost had their last lunch together. Stein later concluded it was due to his own greed. He had tried to get some free legal advice.
They were at Girond's and Stein was pumping Prestman about living trusts. He had read an article recommending them for tax reasons and he concluded that one might be appropriate for Sarah who still required constant physical therapy though over ten years had passed since the accident.
Prestman knew that Stein had no close relatives and was naturally curious as to the proposed beneficiary. Stein briefly explained that Sarah was an old friend with whom he had once been romantically connected who was now partially crippled.
Prestman cross-examined Stein until he had obtained the gist of their past relationship and the cause of the accident.
Prestman studied his plate for a moment. "Are you consulting me as an attorney or as a friend?"
Stein widened his eyes. "Does it matter?"
"Very much. I have much to say if I am not being asked to give...amoral legal advice."
Stein smiled. "You seek to improve my moral posture?"
To Stein's amusement, Prestman blushed, then became irate. "She's your abandoned mistress. Crippled, then abandoned."
Stein tried to control his annoyance. "That sounds quite romantic, Andrew. One feels I should be married and keeping this dark secret from my innocent bride."
But Prestman was not amused. "If you felt responsible for her well-being, it seems to me you should have married her. You're supporting her monetarily, but that is the least expensive type of support there is."
Stein was no longer amused. "I did not pose the question to obtain moral guidance. I posed the question to obtain legal advice."
"To me they are linked. I would suggest that you examine your own motivations in attempting to buy absolution rather than facing your responsibilities."
Stein was truly angry now, and found himself tearing into his roast duck as if it had been Prestman. For his part, Prestman was glaring at Stein, face flushed. Neither said anything for the rest of the meal. Neither telephoned the other during the week to arrange another lunch. It appeared that the friendship had terminated.
Four months later Stein was wakened by a midnight telephone call from Prestman. Prestman's voice was frantic."Doctor, it's my wife. She's nearly hysterical. I don't know who else to call. You're allowed to give...tranquilizers?"
"Yes, of course. But I can't just do so without reason. What is the problem?" He was blinking rapidly in the light of his lamp, trying to gather his mind from the deep sleep.
"It's our son. He's been...killed. In DaNang. We just heard." Prestman's voice was oddly flat, very calm. Stein stared at his bedroom wall, thinking.
"I will attend you. I will arrive in..."
"We can come there. I’ll drive."
"No, you will not."
"I'm perfectly fine, Doctor."
"No, I do not think you are. I will arrive in about one hour. Good-bye." He hung up before Prestman could argue further.
As he packed his medical bag he realized that this was the first night call that he had made in at least fifteen years. The pump of adrenaline, the preparation to rush into the still night somehow pleased him.
The Bay Bridge was empty, as were the streets of San Francisco, so he made it to Prestman's large Victorian within forty minutes. The lights in the mansion lighted the otherwise muted street. He parked in the driveway and made his way up the ornate staircase. The door opened before he could knock.
Prestman was in his bathrobe, hair uncombed, face deathly white. "She's asleep, now. I tried to call you, but you had left."
Stein entered the vestibule, dropping his bag on a small bench near the door. "Asleep? That is odd. May I see her?"
Prestman stared at him. "You don't think...she wouldn't...?" With that he almost ran up the stairs ahead of Stein who grabbed his bag and followed him.
Eleanor Prestman was a delicate woman, beautiful in a fragile, pale way. Stein had only met her once during a cocktail party and had noted her habit of leaning on Prestman's arm whenever they stood near each other. Prestman had seemed to enjoy it.
Stein gently pushed Prestman aside and felt her pulse. Normal. He checked the bottle of sleeping tablets near the bed. It was mostly full. She woke a little, moaning in her sleep, eyes swollen. Stein signaled Prestman to follow him out of the room.
In the hallway Prestman gripped his arm, eyes wide and questioning. Stein put his arm around his shoulder and led him downstairs. "She's fine, Andrew. She took a pill or two too many, but there's no attempt at suicide here. Indeed, she did precisely what I would have suggested. Come, let us see about you."
"I'm fine. Fine."
"Then you will not hesitate to let me examine you. Shall we go to your living room?"
Grumbling, Prestman led Stein to his large living room. Stein commented approvingly upon the expensive antique furnishings, the well-stocked library. Preoccupied, Prestman nodded, "Yes. Eleanor picked those things. She's very good at that. Very good."
Stein had Prestman lie upon one of the couches and conducted a standard examination waiting for Prestman to start talking.
Finally, after about five minutes of silent pressing and prodding, Prestman pushed Stein's hands away and looked at him. Prestman started to speak, but no words came. He swallowed hard, licked his lips, and mumbled, "An accident."
"Some goddamned oil drum...gasoline drum...exploded. While they were loading it. It wasn't even the Viet Cong. Not even the enemy."
Stein made a show of feeling his pulse, saying nothing, waiting. Prestman stared at the ceiling. "Three months more. That's all he had left. Three months. Then finish law school. He'd have come in with me, I think. He was smart. Like his mother. Delicate but smart. No soldier. Shouldn't have been a soldier..." His voice trailed off.
Stein let his wrist down. "It is horrible and outrageous, my friend. Unfair and absurd. You have every right to be bitter, to be furious."
Prestman tightened his lips but said nothing. Stein continued, "The ones who die do so at random, the good having no better chance at survival than the evil. It is luck,I am afraid, that determines the survivors. And to rage against this reality is entirely justified. Do not hold it back. Do not be brave, for such bravery accomplishes nothing."
Prestman stared at Stein. His eyes brimmed. "Goddamn God. Goddamn that rotten son of a bitch."
"Goddamn God," Stein agreed, his hand on Prestman's arm. "I speak from experience. He lets the good suffer, often rewards the evil. If God exists, he must be evil or stupid. Or both."
Prestman nodded, eyes bright. "Yes. Yes. It makes no sense. Why bring him up for this? Why love him for nineteen years? Care for him? Treasure him? Why bother? For nothing. Nothing. He had no life at all. It hadn't even begun."
He sat up, hand grasping Stein's lapel. "Why not me? I'm middle-aged. I've done what I had to. Why not me?" He fell back on the sofa and turned his head away from Stein, facing the cushions. Tears fell onto the soft velvet but Prestman made no sound. He did not move his head.
Stein held his shoulder tightly, not letting go. About an hour later Prestman fell asleep, still on the couch, Stein still holding his shoulder. When Prestman awoke Stein was gone. On the seat next to the sofa was a scribbled note. On it was written, "Next Tuesday at noon?" Prestman folded the note in his hand, going up to the bedroom to look after his wife.
He did not mention his son's death at their next luncheon. He never mentioned his son or Sarah to Stein
AFTER THE IN-FLIGHT MOVIE JEFFREY BECAME increasingly restless. He ignored the magazines, instead carefully read the various cards in the seat pocket in front of him, describing in detail means of exit in the event of disaster.
"Uncle, how come no parachutes?"
"Two reasons. First, we shall be over water and there is little point in surviving to drown in the sea. Second, at our speed and height, you would freeze and asphyxiate long before floating to the ground."
Jeffrey's eyes grew solemn. "Oh." He read the card some more. Then, softly, "Then if we're so high and going so fast, won't we just break apart in the air? What chance is there that we would live after a crash landing?"
"Small, Jeffrey, small. The card is of little use to most victims of air accidents. It is used mostly to occupy the minds of those nervous about the coming flight."
Jeffrey frowned, put the card aside and rummaged though the back pocket of the seat for more treasures.
Somewhere over the Midwest the stewardess discovered the "darling" boy accompanied by his "adorable" grandfather. She concentrated attention on them, to their increasing annoyance, constantly brushing Jeffrey's hair back, straightening his shirt collar, and telling Stein that Jeffrey was very well behaved.
"Yes, we have so many boys...young men, I should say...who just don't know how to behave on a flight. You must be very proud of your grandson."
"He's not my grandfather," Jeffrey protested.
"He's my great-uncle and I think you're being condescending to me." Stein smiled and looked out the window.
The stewardess was delighted. "And such a vocabulary. You must be quite a genius."
Jeffrey's eyelids drooped. "I am not a genius. My uncle is. I just want to read." He opened his magazine with a flourish.
Her smile slowly faded. Stein came to her rescue. "Madam, we would both appreciate refreshment. Do you have any juices?"
"Why, yes. Of course. You're a genius?"
"No. I am an intelligent man seeking refreshment. Orange juice?”
"Yes, of course. What will your grandson have?"
Jeffrey put the magazine down noisily. "He's not my grandpa. I have none alive. My grandpa wasn't very smart at all. My uncle is remarkably intelligent. Remember, I told you that?"
"Jeffrey, do not abuse the lady. Order your refreshment."
:But she keeps making the same mistake."
"Then she has the quality of consistency. Order, nephew."
Jeffrey looked at her and, surprisingly, smiled. "Orange, please. If you had read about either history or psychology you would know my uncle. His name is Doctor Gerald Stein. He's famous. You'd like his books."
She smiled back uncertainly. "Yes. I'm sure." When she returned with the juices she did not pause for further conversation.
y then the old man and the boy were playing chess on a magnetic board. The old man was winning.
It was over the Atlantic, Jeffrey snuggled next to him, the lights in the plane dim, that Stein decided which drug he would use for his suicide. He had been dithering over the proper choice for weeks, knowing full well that he was using that decision to delay having to make a much harder decision: when and how to tell Jeffrey of his coming death.
With the small head nestled against his shoulder, the muted roar of the jet engines filling the softly lit cabin, Stein dozed, his mind slowly working out the various possible solutions. Just before he fell asleep he suddenly made his decision. He would make no decision. He would see what circumstances allowed. He would let fate guide him. As fate had guided Jeffrey to him.
THE CASTLE AT CHINON, ABOUT AN HOUR OUT OF Tours, had always been a favorite of Stein's. Built on a high plateau overlooking the small town of Chinon on the Loire River, it was the summer castle of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. From its ramparts Henry II and, eight hundred years later, Stein and Jeffrey, could look over the lovely rolling hills of the Loire valley, the gentle river sliding by smaller chateaus, cultivated vineyards and farms.
The French government had decided to renovate the ancient military fortress, and stonemasons slowly chinked away at massive building blocks as the tourists meandered through the turrets, abutments, and small museums scattered over its four-acre expanse. The interior grounds were large enough to have trees and gardens planted, and one could feel one was in a medieval walled garden perched atop a mountain. It was a place for armored knights and virtuous ladies.
It was here that Joan of Arc was held before being tried and condemned at Rouen, here that she had been imprisoned while waiting for martyrdom. Stein and Jeffrey stood in her cell in the prison turret, examining the graffiti etched into the hard stone by dozens of prisoners over hundreds of years.
"Do you think her initials are here, Uncle?"
"I doubt it. She was already convinced of her immortality. Why bother leaving initials for the next generation?"
Jeffrey nodded, his hand caressing the slight indentations on the stone. "She was innocent, wasn't she?"
"Essentially. Innocent of witchcraft. Guilty of political opportunism. It is ancient history. Do not let it disturb you."
Jeffrey slowly moved about the room, studying the moldy walls. "Like what happened to Great Grandma and Great Grandpa? In Germany?"
Stein stiffened. "No. That is not ancient history. And they were imprisoned for no rational reason. On the whim and racism of a paranoid. You cannot compare."
Jeffrey stared at his uncle. "I don't understand. What's the difference?"
"Six million people, for one thing. Six million people slaughtered. With no trial. As cattle to the slaughterhouse."
"You mean the Jews?"
"Jews. Gypsies. Anyone the Nazis considered expendable. Like your great grandparents." Stein's voice was gruff. He wanted to leave this small room, but Jeffrey seemed fascinated by the etchings on the walls.
"But Joan's trial was fake. You said so, yourself."
"So, what difference did the trial make? I don't see the difference between Joan and the Jews."
"Does not the number six million strike you as remarkably different than one?"
Jeffrey considered for a moment. "It's more. But different? Why?"
Stein huffed, "Why? Because six million deaths is genocide. The slaughter of our people, Jeffrey. Two-thirds of our people in Europe. One-third of all Jews in the world. Compare that to one schizophrenic Frenchwoman."
"But you said she was innocent."
"Then, I don't see any difference. The Jews were innocent and were killed by the Nazis. Joan was innocent and was killed by the English. It's wrong both times."
"The Nazis were six million times more wrong." Stein blinked at his own poor phrasing.
Jeffrey came up to Stein, head bent back to look at his face. "You know what I think?"
"I think you don't care about Joan 'cause she wasn't Jewish."
Stein colored. "Nonsense. I deplore the injustice done to the lady. But to compare it to the Holocaust..."
"You mean just 'cause they killed a lot more you think it's worse?"
"Yes. At some point quantity and quality meld. At some point the sheer numbers create a new category of horror."
Jeffrey touched the stone walls. "I don't think bad becomes more bad because it's done over and over. One time is bad."
Stein sighed. "Your argument does have merit, Jeffrey. But I cannot equate the two as identical levels of evil."
Jeffrey did not answer, merely looked at him. Stein looked back, then suddenly smiled. "You argue well, Nephew. Well." His smile faded. "But if you saw the death camps, your arguments would falter. Joan was a threat to the English. The Jews were a threat to no one."
"But they didn't kill her because they said she was a threat. They killed her because she was a witch."
"That was their excuse."
Jeffrey shrugged, heading towards the door. "I don't see much difference, Uncle."
"You are persistent, Nephew."
Jeffrey smiled and went into the bright sunlight. Stein hesitated a moment, then moved to the walls, examining the faint scratchings. The desperate attempts of the condemned to maintain some identity after death. Yet the only ones to see the graffiti were the next ones condemned to die. Until now. Until the tourists came. Until Jeffrey came.
Did Elva scratch graffiti on some moldy wall near the gas chambers? Had she compared herself to Joan? Or had she sat huddled with her mother, thinking of nothing, waiting to die with the other cattle? Black uniforms, booted legs, starving, hopeless wretches in striped clown costumes.
He suddenly felt a pull on his hand. Jeffrey was standing there, both his small hands around Stein's big wrist, pulling. "Uncle, you're making fists. You're growling. What's wrong?"
Stein sighed. "Nothing. I'm all right."
"No, you're not. You're not. You're almost crying."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"You should see your face. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it about the Jews. About Joan. I was wrong...."
Stein suddenly grabbed his shoulders. "No. Don't say that. Don't ever change your mind to make someone comfortable. Ever. Promise me that.'
Jeffrey, wide-eyed, took a step-backwards. Stein remained holding his shoulders. “Promise me that, Jeffrey. You will not compromise your views to get ahead or to make someone else happy. Not your father, not your mother, not your employer or teacher...and not me. Say it."
Jeffrey licked his lips. "All right, Uncle."
"I promise. But why are you so...upset?"
Stein slowed his breathing studying the floor of the cell, still holding Jeffrey's shoulder. He smiled grimly. "Ancient history, Jeffrey. Ancient history."
Jeffrey kept staring at him. "Did you...know someone who the Nazis killed?"
Stein nodded, staring at the walls. Jeffrey said nothing, thinking. Then he moved closer to Stein and hugged him as hard as he could. His voice trembled. "I'm sorry, Uncle."
Stein could not talk. He hugged Jeffrey back. They stood that way for what seemed a long time. Then two children, speaking rapid German with a Bavarian accent, ran into the cell. In German, the younger said, "Joan of Arc died here. I bet she put her name on the walls." They began to examine the walls, chattering away, ignoring the old man and the boy. Their parents approached the doorway.
Slowly Stein and Jeffrey parted and, hand in hand, walked into the sunlight.
PHELPS YAWNED AND PUT BOTH FEET UP ON HIS DESK. It was almost nine at night and he and Craig, his college student clerk, were getting a little punchy. Boxes of papers were piled on the walnut credenza behind his large desk, folders were scattered about his office. Near the door lay the four boxes of documents already examined by them. They had fourteen more boxes to go.
It wouldn't be so bad if Phelps wasn't already in the middle of an arbitration that took his time all day, every day. Craig was taking four courses this semester, so by the time they finished dinner and came back to the office each night they were both exhausted.
Nevertheless, they had only another three days to finish their review of the produced records. Phelps slowly leafed through a file containing inter-office memos for the years 1960-65 while Craig pawed through letters from the malpractice insurance carrier for the year 1970. The only sound was that of shuffling papers and occasional grants of discovery from one or the other.
Craig would mutter, "Look at this. Three complaints in 1975, more than the previous four years combined." Phelps would nod and Craig would write that down on a tablet kept on his lap. Or Phelps would grunt, "Hah! Crowe was reprimanded twice in 1989 for failing to keep up to date scheduling with the firm's master calendar. But no mention of that in the partner meeting notes." And the like. No smoking guns. No great discoveries.
Finally Craig stood up, stretched his back, and emptied his can of Coke. "Mr. Phelps, this doesn’t seem to be getting us much. I’m not sure how important the mistake must be to be relevant…I mean, what exactly do you need?"
Phelps sighed and threw a folder onto his desk. "I need someone big in the firm screwing up big and it being hushed up. Preferably someone on the partners' committee. Ideally Hinkle or Springer. I need something sexy for the jury."
Craig sat on one of the client chairs. "Does it really matter? I mean, is it relevant? I don't see how it really relates to them killing Mr. Prestman."
"Tangentially, perhaps. But it will make the jury mad, and that's what we need."
"I don't get it."
"Juries have a real basic sense of fairness, Craig. If they see a double standard in the firm, they'll get angry. Right now it looks like the firm made a mistake, got a little carried away. But if the firm had previously leaned over backward to help other lawyers who the firm liked, then the jury gets pissed and we make points. But we need something sexy..."
Craig grinned. "Sexy?"
"Yeah. Something the jury is going to remember. Don't forget, the jury goes into deliberation days, sometimes weeks after the evidence is presented. We need something that will hit them so hard that they'll remember it two weeks after the testimony."
Craig looked at the boxes sadly. "And what are the chances it's in there?"
Phelps also looked at the boxes. "Maybe one in five. Despite the movies, most of the time you discover nothing. But what the hell, let's try. Get to work, my boy."
He picked up another file, stifling a yawn. Craig shook his head slightly and squatted before yet another box, pulling out yet another folder.
THE FIRST PAIN HIT STEIN LATE AT NIGHT. As he made his way to the bathroom he was careful not to wake Jeffrey who was in the adjoining room of the Hotel de Tours. He leaned over the sink, the pain in his stomach slowly subsiding. He was damp with perspiration.
With slightly shaking hands he turned on the bathroom light. He studied his face in the mirror with professional care. "You appear ill, Doctor Stein," he muttered. Then he grinned lopsidedly. "Well, Grim Reaper, you're coming a little early, aren't you?"
These symptoms should still be over a month away. So much for scientific accuracy. Assuming the timetable was altered to conform to the latest pains, he was down to a little over two months before the pain became truly disabling.
Then, suddenly, he felt a surge of panic, of despair. As if the loss of an extra month suddenly made death real. The loss of that month seemed grossly unfair, a theft of an object of inestimable value. Leaning on the sink, eyes on the floor, he struggled with the fear, fought the desire to scream out his rage. Jeffrey must not know, must not find out. At least not this way, with his uncle bellowing in self-pity in the bathroom.
He straighted up, turned off the light, and walked back to the bedroom. On an impulse, he opened the door to Jeffrey's room and silently entered. The boy was asleep. Stein made his way to the small couch near the bed and cautiously sat down, noting the even breathing of his nephew.
It seemed oddly familiar to be sitting here. As if he had done it many times before. Then he remembered.
He remembered waking up in the middle of a storm. Munich. He must have been five or six years old. The thunder had wakened him and he sat up in bed, eyes wide with terror. To his surprise and relief he saw his father, asleep in a chair near the bed.
His father had been on night duty at the hospital and had come in to see Gerald before going to sleep. He was slumped down in the chair, still in his white coat, stethoscope tucked into his large breast pocket. His head leaned to the left, his hands loose in his lap. And also in his lap was a small brown package of candy. Gerald realized his father had stopped off at the all-night pharmacy to bring him some candy.
Gerald left the bed and carefully crawled into his father's lap, careful not to jolt him. His father mumbled in his sleep, then automatically put his arms around the boy. Gerald curled into a ball, head pressed against his father's chest, listening to his steady heartbeat.
Sometime in the night his mother must have come in, for when he awoke stiff and cold the next morning she was asleep in his bed, curled into a ball herself. Gerald didn't move, encased in his father's arms, staring at his mother warm and asleep in his bed. He was happy. He was content. He dozed off again.
Stein awoke near three AM. His first thought was that the pain must have returned. Then he realized that he felt no pain, just a weight on his stomach. He was on the couch near Jeffrey's bed. And snuggled next to him was his nephew, asleep. Stein wished he had candy in a small brown bag to offer him. Instead he put his arms around the boy and together they slept through the rest of the night.
PHELPS FOUND IT AT ELEVEN-THIRTY THAT SAME NIGHT. Craig was asleep on the couch in the reception room. Phelps had just finished arguing with his wife on the telephone about his late hours. He was too angry to be tired and was consequently quite alert. Alert enough to spot the subtle clue.
It was in the bonus ledgers of attorneys for the year 1985. Springer had received a rather large bonus, about $45,700. But it was paid in two checks. One in the amount of $12,713 to Springer. And the remaining $33,000 to a Mrs. Anita Sorley. Who the hell was she?
He checked the payroll records, thinking that she may have been a secretary or paralegal that Springer might have had to placate for some reason. She was not on the payroll either in 1985 or for the preceding three years. Phelps thought for a bit, then picked up the client list and case summary for the year. He soon found her.
She had retained the firm in 1984 to prosecute a contractor for failure to finish a roofing job. Her suit had been for $33,000. The client profile was silent as to the result of the suit, but the assigned attorney was Springer.
Excited now, Phelps hurried to the folders containing partner meetings for the year 1985. He pawed through the meetings, noting wryly that Prestman had still been on the management committee at that time.
For July, 1985, he found the notation which he felt applied. It was towards the end of a managing committee meeting, not even a full partners' meeting. It briefly said, "The managing committee votes unanimously to grant a one-time special bonus to Attorney Springer for purposes of improving client relations. Said sum will be charged against future bonuses to be earned over the next four years."
That was all. It was enough. Phelps knew what had happened. Somehow, someway, Springer had blown the case, blown it big. Maybe a statue of limitations, maybe losing some key document. It didn't matter. The firm covered for him, giving him a bonus large enough to pay off the angry client and to cover the income taxes payable.
No reprimand in the meetings. A nice little cover-up. And one of the three lawyers who had covered Springer, who had voted him the bonus to save his ass, had been Prestman. The same Prestman that Springer had thrown to the wolves eight years later.
Phelps leaned back in his seat, a triumphant smile on his face. "Got you, you bastard. You're mine, now. Mine."
He pictured the closing argument before the jury. "Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Springer knew how to pay back the man who had previously saved Mr. Springer's own reputation. The same Mr. Prestman who took $45,000 from the firm's coffers to help Mr. Springer was publicly hounded and disgraced by Mr. Springer who would do anything...yes, anything... to get the firm out of the case against the powerful oil companies...."
Phelps grinned and began pacing the room, adrenaline pumping. He had them, really had them. He'd put Springer on trial, butcher the bastard before the jury, let Springer know what Prestman must have felt when backed against the wall. Let him see what public disgrace was all about.
Phelps sat down again, suddenly tired. He had his ammunition now, had the weapon he needed. He could hardly wait to tell Stein, let the old man know that vengeance was his.
It was then that Phelps thought about what this would do to Springer, how it would ruin him. He'd certainly have trouble retaining his managing partner status. Maybe even lose his partnership. Phelps shrugged, getting up to wake Craig. If the guy had balls, had smarts, Prestman would be alive today. Crowe had been right. Springer was the worst kind of bastard...a weak one.
STEIN PUSHED THE DOOR OPEN AND ENTERED MICHAEL'S hospital room. The smell of disinfectant, the pale green sheets, the chrome and steel bed were all identical to those in the hospitals he frequented in California. It occurred to him that illness created a universal aesthetic, a universal culture in all nations. A culture of pastel colors, chemical smells and bulky machinery.
Martha had brought Jeffrey to the hospital an hour or so before Stein arrived, Stein having stopped to call his clinic to check up on his patients. She sat on a straight-backed chair near the bed watching Jeffrey and his father play chess on the small, magnetic chess set. Jeffrey leaped up as Stein came through the door. He grabbed Stein's hand,
leading him towards the board. "I've got Dad in the rook's gambit, Uncle. Look."
Stein glanced at the board, then at the wasted face of his nephew. "Michael, you must not let him win. Jeffrey is quite capable and does not require any handicap."
Michael leaned back on the pillow smiling tiredly. "Let him win? Hell, Uncle, I'd settle for lasting twenty moves. That little demon is a wizard." He grinned, reached over and squeezed his son's arm.
Jeffrey beamed at Stein. "He falls for all the tricks I did. That you played on me."
Martha rose to give Stein her seat and absently brushed Jeffrey's hair with her hand. "Don't brag, Jeffrey. And don't count your chickens before they're hatched."
Stein and Jeffrey exchanged a look which Michael caught. He coughed, then grinned. "Uncle, have a seat and watch me get bludgeoned by the monster you've created."
Stein slowly sat. "You are recovering well, Michael. The staff here is delighted. And they are delighted with what they label your positive attitude. A detestable term, but they mean to compliment you."
Michael closed his eyes for a moment, instantly appearing haggard, old. Stein examined his face, then reached over and felt his pulse. Martha and Jeffrey watched closely.
Michael opened his eyes, smiling faintly, quickly glancing at his wife and son, worried that they were worried. He locked eyes on Stein, trying to give a warning look to be careful in front of them. Stein met his glance, then closed his eyes counting the pulse. Michael licked his lips. "Still a little weak? But I'm better. I can feel it."
Stein dropped his wrist. "Yes. Yes, you are. But chess with a talented player is probably unwise. Too much consumption of energy."
"I'm a talented player?" Jeffrey asked, sounding pleased.
"Too good for me," grinned Michael. "Let's take a break, son. We'll try again in a few days."
Jeffrey sighed. "I was just going to use my knight. You would have been surprised."
Stein studied the board a moment longer. "You have already triumphed, Jeffrey. The game was effectively over."
Jeffrey glowed and leaned against Stein, both staring at the board. Michael watched them, breathing a little heavily, smiling. Martha kept a straight face and winked at her husband. After a moment, Jeffrey began putting the board away.
Stein opened the file he had taken from the nurse's station and spread it out on the bed. Martha took Jeffrey's shoulder. "Let's get some lunch, honey. Uncle wants to talk to Daddy about treatments."
"I'd like to stay."
"Well, you're not going to. I'm hungry and the men need some privacy." She pulled Jeffrey to the door as he finished putting the board away. "We'll be back in half an hour," she called over her shoulder, the door swishing closed behind them.
Stein did not glance up, carefully reading the French prescriptions written in a scrawl in the margin of the file. After a few moments he began speaking, still reading the notations. "The French are much more aggressive in drug applications, Michael, but I assume you are aware of that fact, having chosen to come here for treatment."
"And so far it's working."
Stein turned the page, still reading. "Working quite well, as far as I can determine. But once you return to the United States it will be difficult to maintain this level of treatment. You must remain here at least eight more days to complete the first series of doses."
"That's why they won't let me go? The good ol' USA won't give me the drugs?"
"You can obtain the drugs, but not in the dosage desired here. It is only a delay of a week or so."
Michael sighed. "All right. If you say so."
"I do. It is necessary."
Michael studied the old man, eyes half closed. "Uncle, I'm glad you're here. For Martha and Jeffrey, I mean." He stared at the ceiling for a moment, then continued. "I've never really thanked you. For taking care of Jeffrey. Hell, for bringing him here. I mean, you've been great. Just great."
Stein leaned back in his seat. "Jeffrey is remarkable, Michael. Have you considered his future education? How best to train that agile mind?"
"Sure. We have a college fund...or did. Until this." For a moment his face was bitter, angry, glancing about the sterile room. With an effort he smoothed his features, even forced a grin. "Hell, the important thing is to be alive. We can start another one. We've got time."
Stein leaned forward in the chair. "Not necessarily. Young minds develop quickly and his early education may be more critical than his later years in college. It is time to carefully consider the alternatives. A private school offers substantially better programs, I am advised. I have investigated the matter to some extent."
Michael shifted his position on the bed. "Well, we like the idea of public schools, Uncle. Private means elite and we're not sure that's good for Jeffrey."
Stein's lips pressed together. Then, calmly, "That is not a corollary, Michael. And too often public schools fail to recognize gifted children. I have read articles in various educational journals..."
"Well, we're willing to chance that. We think Jeffrey needs the exposure to all kids, not just other gifted kids..."
"Exposure without education will make him a well-rounded ignoramus. Certainly in a time when public officials use school budgets as political grist for their inane campaigns..."
"Martha and I have thought about it and talked about it, Uncle. We've made up our minds." He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them. "I appreciate your...concern. But we're pretty well set on this."
Stein sat straight in the chair, eyes on the file lying on the bed. "I see."
Michael coughed, regained his breath, and lay his head back on the pillow staring at the ceiling. After a few moments he spoke again, his voice a little stiff. "I'm glad you're interested. Martha and I...well, perhaps we're too close. Maybe we could use more...objective advice."
He paused, then added softly, "It’s hard to make all these decisions, you know. You can misjudge your child…you get too close to the child, you love them so much, I mean…You never did marry...have children, did you Uncle?"
Stein shrugged. "No. No, I did not."
Michael studied him a moment. "Jeffrey loves you. Worships you."
Stein raised his eyebrows. "We are fond of each other."
"He does great in school. Don't worry. And when it's time for college, a private one sounds fine. I'd like your advice on that. Which one you think makes sense. Maybe he'll go into science. He's good at that."
"Medicine, Michael. He should consider medicine. It is a tradition in the family and we may conclude that such skill is to some extent inherited."
Michael stretched his back. "Well, he'll be the one to decide. I always thought law might make sense." Stein winced but said nothing. Michael grinned. "Well, it's up to him. He won't really care what either of us thinks by then."
Stein may have smiled. "Probably you are correct."
"You should have had children, Uncle. They're wonderful and you're a natural parent. I can tell."
Stein shook his head. "No. It was not right for me. But I do enjoy your son." Stein gathered the papers back into the file, not looking at Michael. "I wish to pay for his education."
"Hey, no need for that. We'll manage. No rich uncle for us. We pay our own..." He stopped for Stein was glaring at him.
"Jeffrey deserves the best education money can buy. I am rich and wish to provide it. It is...important to me. Critically important. Will you deny me that privilege?"
Michael shifted his back. "I just don't want to seem the grasping nephew. I don't want you to think that your money matters to us. It doesn't. It won't."
Stein sat straighter. "I know it doesn't, Michael. Do not fear that conclusion on my part. Jeffrey has been...remarkable. For me. I wish to ensure that his mind is given maximum opportunity." He hesitated, not meeting Michael's eyes. "Please. Let me."
Embarrassed, Michael laughed. "Hell, you don't have to plead, Uncle. I mean, it's wonderful. I just wish..."
He paused, then spoke quickly. "Well, when Dad died, I...you seemed not to be interested in getting to know us. Our side of the family. You left right after the funeral. The same day."
Neither man looked at the other. The silence lengthened. Michael coughed then continued. "We're all really proud of you...the books and all. But we thought...frankly, we thought you considered us idiots. Not worth knowing. I mean, we felt you wanted to be left alone. We didn't realize just how...well, how warm you could be." He shook his head, annoyed with himself. "That's not the right word. I'm too tired to think right. But you get my meaning. We thought you wanted to be left alone."
Stein sighed. "You were correct, Michael. And I consequently lost years of your acquaintance. And Jeffrey's."
"It was our fault. We should have called more. But that's ancient history, right? Now we're a family. Now we'll stay close." He grinned again. "I'll get to pick your brain. Maybe some of your intelligence will rub off on me. Before Jeffrey figures out how dumb his dad is." He closed his eyes. "Family. That's what counts."
Stein studied Michael a long moment before replying. "It does count, Michael. It is of value. You will accept my offer concerning Jeffrey's education?"
"Yes. And thank you." On impulse, Michael reached across and put his hand on Stein's. "We'll bring that kid up together, Uncle. You and us. You know education. Schools. We don't. We'll do it together. That would be...good. Really good. Right?"
Stein nodded and rose. "Yes. Yes, it would. You must sleep soon. I will retrieve your wife and son so they may say good-bye. Please do not mention my offer to Jeffrey."
"I do not wish to do anything to alter our relationship. I am satisfied as it now stands. There is plenty of time...later. For him to understand."
Michael narrowed his eyes. "Sure. If that's what you want."
"Satisfactory. I will soon return." He left the room. Michael stared after him, shaking his head, smiling slightly.
Stein made his excuses to Jeffrey and his parents and traveled to Paris the next day to see Professor Massine. He had written the professor from California of his intention to visit him, and the elderly history professor had reserved a table in the elegant faculty dining room. The two old men walked slowly through the small, lovely garden planted about the school buildings, waiting for lunch, speaking German in low, urgent tones.
"Dr. Stein, if I may say so, I was not impressed with your last work. You should avoid historical work. The research was adequate. I have no complaint about that. But your proclivity for psychoanalyzing when you should be objectively reporting is regrettable."
"Professor Massine, do you know why I have come six thousand miles to visit you?"
Massine stopped and stared at Stein. "Visit me? You were not planning a trip independent of this visit?"
"No. I have come to see you."
Massine nervously brushed back his long mane of white hair, switching his cane to his left hand. His hands trembled with age, his skin was blotchy and flaccid but his eyes were piercing, almost angry. "Very well, Dr. Stein. Why?"
"Two reasons. First, I wish to thank you for your first work. That short history of Alcibiades. You titled it, ‘A History of Ambition.’ You recall it?"
"Of course. I was still a student. It was in... 1932 that I wrote it. It was a failure."
"It was an inspiration to me. It was a guide. I wished you to know that. It was a...brake on my arrogance, on my own ambition. And it helped me to understand the ambition of others. An excellent warning."
The old man blushed with pleasure. "It was not meant to be, my friend. I was simply fascinated by the story of a brilliant and gifted member of the Athenian elite becoming corrupted by ambition despite the careful teaching of the genius of his era, Socrates. It struck me then as somehow significant, an allegory if you will. I was young and sought such significance in history."
"You do not now?"
Massine smiled, taking Stein's arm. "A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing." It sounded strange in German.
"I am sorry you have come to that conclusion, Professor. I do not share your cynicism."
"Oh, I am not cynical, Doctor. Indeed, I am delighted with history. It is a very amusing tale when viewed correctly."
"Yes. Perhaps ten years ago I realized that my historical analysis was lacking a key human element. Humor. Do you realize how absolutely funny much of history is?" He smiled, then began to chuckle. "Take Napoleon. This squat little officer puts down a few hundred street rabble with a canon or two, thereby impressing that band of intellectual thugs who constituted the government and who feared the rabble more than the squat man. So he gets an army. Think of that, Stein."
"It is amusing?"
"Place it in modem terms. Imagine some National Guard captain from, let us say, Oklahoma, disbursing a crowd of protesting students in Washington. If I told you that your grateful American president then made that officer a general, and that said officer would, five years later, overthrow the government and proclaim himself emperor of the United States, you would guffaw and claim I was describing a farce, a ridiculous motion picture starring some comedian. Indeed, one can imagine such a movie."
Massine squeezed Stein's arm. "Mein Gott. That farce is precisely what happened. And the captain conquered most of Europe."
He threw back his head and laughed. "That is very funny," he said, still chuckling. "And there is more. One hundred years later a failed architecture student, a small, dark man with a large nose, suddenly proclaimed the existence of a nonexistent international conspiracy, seized power from an economically derelict republic, and again almost conquered the world. It is madly funny, is it not?" He chuckled again.
At first Stein said nothing, walking arm in arm with the professor. Then, "Your humor is angry, Professor."
"Perhaps. Perhaps. But our view of God may be myopic."
"You have doubtless grown bored with the argument that God must be evil to allow so much evil? Or so beyond our comprehension that we cannot understand his sense of good and evil?"
The professor stopped and faced Stein, face quite serious. "Perhaps God has a sense of humor. Perhaps he uses the world for comic relief. Perhaps we are the clowns of existence. The court jesters that allow God to relax after a hard day at the office."
Stein smiled at that. "If so, then perhaps our existence is worthwhile. For if we allow God to enjoy the beneficial effect of humor man does serve a higher purpose. Your theory speaks well for man, Professor. Can one imagine a higher calling than that of the clown, spreading cheer and amusement throughout existence? Though the pratfalls may be a little hard for the clown." He paused, thinking. "I just hope God does not become confused. Does not require canned laughter to know when to laugh."
The professor looked at Stein closely. "I do not know if God does. But I need it. For, my friend..." he took Stein's elbow, smiling, "...I no longer am sure when to laugh."
Stein chuckled. "Then the job of the historian is to educate the populace as to when to laugh? History is the canned laughter of humanity?"
"Alas, no. For historians have forgotten when to laugh. Perhaps we all have forgotten."
He opened the door to the faculty dining room, holding it open for Stein. "But Doctor, you said you had two reasons to see me. What was the second?"
Stein entered and halted, surprised at the elegance of the formal dining room. Massine chuckled. "You expected an American-style cafeteria? We are in Paris, doctor, not California."
They found a small table near a window, already set with a bottle of excellent wine and breadsticks. The waiter greeted them and began to serve lunch without taking any orders.
Massine toyed with his wineglass, staring out the large window, watching a young couple walking hand in hand, hip to hip, along the path that ran the length of the building. He studied them intently, then looked at Stein, smiling. "Wonderful, my friend?"
Stein looked after them. "Perhaps. Certainly more inspiring than Napoleon."
"But no one will ever write their history, will they? Or the millions of lovers who came before them? My friend, we only write history about the dwarfs of creation, not the victors, not the happy ones who live content, who do not ruin the happiness of others." But he was smiling as he said this, eyes dancing.
Stein held up his glass. "As one dwarf to another, salud." Massine laughed and they clinked glasses. The wine was very good.
"And now for why I have come to you. I wish to make a gift to you. I have over a thousand pages of notes and research concerning Masada. I was hopeful you would either wish to use them, or, in turn, give them to some historian whom you admire to use."
Massine sipped the wine. "I see." He watched the lovers disappear around the bend. "How long do you have, my friend?"
Stein stiffened. "I am no longer interested in the era, Professor. I have other projects."
Massine raised his eyebrows but kept his eyes on the warm grass. "I see."
A rather uncomfortable silence ensued. Then Massine moved his eyes to Stein. "Your secret is quite safe with me, Doctor. I have less than a year, myself. The precise time to be decided by a valve somewhere in my chest, I am told. Soon my lips will be sealed." He smiled.
Stein leaned back in the chair. "My lips will be sealed before yours by quite a bit."
"Yes, yes, I know. I can see it. In your face. You are both excited and at peace. As I feel. It is delightful, is it not?"
Stein looked closely at the old man, thinking that he was mocking him. He saw he was not. Slowly Stein smiled. "I admit some...surprise...that my reaction to my imminent death is less than...horror."
For the first time the professor appeared annoyed. "Horror? Why should you feel horror? You are an old man. And now...you are a free old man. Stein, do you realize that all the bounds of society, all the rules, all the punishments are futile against us? We are, for the very first time in our lives entirely free of trivialties, of fear of reprisals, of fear of embarrassment, of fear of...everything."
"Hah! That fear existed before we were given our timetable. It still exists. Perhaps more acute, but only because previously we lied to ourselves about our lifespans. We have lost little. A few years, maybe only a few months. And we have gained months of...indescribable freedom."
He twirled his glass, smiling at the sunlight on the wine. "If only I had realized that this freedom was possible earlier. I have missed much, Doctor. Much."
"No, Professor, I disagree. We go through stages. One experiences various aspects of life when one achieves a particular stage. Physical love when young, etc. You and I have been ... fortunate enough to reach this particular stage. A death sentence at the age of thirty would perhaps not have had this effect upon us."
"No, Doctor, you are wrong. For we all live under a constant sentence of death. We simply refuse to confront that, and, to avoid the fear that such a realization would entail, give up the freedom that such realization creates." He was pounding the table lightly in his excitement.
Stein laughed. "If you do not calm down your final, golden days will end this afternoon."
Massine laughed heartily. "Let them, my friend. This is the very freedom I describe. No limits, my friend, no limits."
Stein sobered. "But it is difficult for the ones who love us."
"Not if we remain silent. And once we are dead, it will only be difficult for a small time. Mourning will not last, despite our unconscious desire that it will. Soon we become a wonderful memory."
He leaned forward, face glowing. "I tell you, Doctor, death is a wonderful part of the living process. I am delighted with it. It may be the only part of life that is absolutely worthwhile." He laughed again and drained his wine. Stein, equally delighted, watched him, smiling.
"So, you will not take my manuscript. Do you know some young historian who might be interested?"
"Of course. I have been unloading my own research files for months. What is another thousand pages? Give them to me this afternoon and have more wine now. Let us drink, my friend, as carefree as when we were in college."
"My college days were not carefree."
"Of course not. You were a Jew in Germany. How could one be carefree when under the power of that ridiculous failed architect? How lucky for you that you have this afternoon to experience what you then missed. Come, drink with me. I seldom have the opportunity to drink with a man as intelligent and as doomed as myself."
They laughed, toasted each other and ordered another bottle.
STEIN AND JEFFREY HAD TO TRAVEL TO PARIS TO FIND THE Hassidic temple and even then it took them three hours of searching before they found the small, dingy building in a lower-middle-class suburb in the eastern part of the city.
Stein led Jeffrey up the wooden steps and they stood before the small sign in Hebrew near the door. "Can you read that, Jeffrey?"
"No, Uncle. But I do read Spanish."
Stein smiled. "There is a service in half an hour. All are invited. Did you remember to bring your yarmulke?"
"Yes, Uncle. Will we have to dance and sing?"
"Don't you want to?"
"I don't know how."
"We'll sit in the back. You can decide then."
They entered a small vestibule, then stepped across a plain, wooden floor to a deserted larger room. Old wood chairs lined the walls. At one end of the room was a raised platform, several chairs scattered about on it. No windows. Two naked electric bulbs hung from the ceiling.
"It looks like an old school auditorium," Jeffrey said, disappointed.
I believe it is," agreed Stein, adjusting the yarmulke on Jeffrey's head. "Let us be seated in the rear."
"Are you sure it's going to start soon? There's no one here."
"I only know what the sign said. Let us see."
They sat in the rear. The sounds of traffic in the street were muted. Stein absently rubbed his side where it had been paining him lately. Jeffrey sat swinging his legs, nervous. Ten minutes passed.
Two old men entered from the street, dressed in long black robes, the traditional wide-brimmed hat on their heads. Their hair was long, as were their beards. Jeffrey stared at them, looking increasingly apprehensive. "They're Jews?"
Stein smiled. "Not your standard Reform congregation, Jeffrey?"
Jeffrey did not answer, but his legs began to swing faster.
Over the next ten minutes several more men entered, all dressed as the first two, all in their fifties or sixties. They glanced in the direction of Stein and Jeffrey, but after nodding at them, moved to the floor near the platform and ignored the two.
"Maybe we should just leave, Uncle. They don't seem very happy to see us."
"Let us wait."
Jeffrey sighed and studied his, swinging feet. By the time another half-hour had passed at least dozen black-clad-men were in the room, chattering in various tongues, mostly French. The youngest appeared to be about thirty, the oldest a wizened, bent fellow at least eighty. The noise of their voices was remarkable. Jeffrey seemed increasingly irritated.
"They're late," he whispered to Stein even though the room rang with noise.
"I suspect they feel that God will wait for them to begin."
"Well, I'm not God," muttered the boy.
"They are undoubtedly aware of that," replied Stein, patting Jeffrey on the knee.
Suddenly they heard a wail, a sound of near agony. Jeffrey froze, eyes wide. Stein sat up. Then, slowly, the wail dropped a full two octaves and began to vibrate and oscillate. "Good Lord," breathed Stein, "that is singing."
Other voices began to join in, the din rising to a level even greater than the previous chattering. Some of the hats began to move up and down and slowly the various men began to sway or twirl, depending, apparently on their mood. There seemed no order to the sound and movement, no joint praying or singing at all. Chaos reigned.
Jeffrey had to shout to be heard. "This wasn't what I thought it would be at all."
Stein was laughing. "It is the chaos before creation, Jeffrey. Let us wait a bit longer."
Two or three of the men were holding hands now, bouncing up and down, bumping into other worshipers. Slowly in the midst of the din, some of the voices began to coalesce, began to harmonize. More and more men joined hands and a rough circle began to emerge. Jeffrey's legs had stopped swinging and he watched in silence. Stein began to tap his foot.
The circle took shape now, though there still seemed to be three or four chants or songs going simultaneously. Stein rose. "Come. Let us join them."
Jeffrey looked up, horrified. "No. I don't know Hebrew."
"Jeffrey, listen to that racket. You could sing in Swahili and no one would know."
Jeffrey would not get up. "No, Uncle, no. I don't want to. Please..."
Stein looked at the boy for a long moment. Then he turned his attention to the dancing and singing congregation. The circle was slowly moving around now, songs still mixed and disjointed, most men smiling or laughing, some looking strangely solemn as they bellowed their songs at the top of their voices. Stein smiled then he looked at his nephew who sat slumped in his seat. Stein's smile broadened, but he held the boy's shoulder. "We will leave, Jeffrey," he shouted above the voices. Jeffrey nodded rapidly and the two left the temple.
Out in the street the sound of the traffic seemed oddly muted. As was Jeffrey as he hurried along beside Stein. Stein could not stop smiling.
"Well, Jeffrey, a little less dignified than you envisioned."
"Uncle, that was horrible. They were just standing and screaming. I mean...it wasn't what I thought it would be."
Stein sobered. "A song that is a prayer is not meant to be merely pretty, Jeffrey. To confront this world, more than beauty is needed. The agony of existence must be in the song, don't you think?"
Jeffrey shrugged. "I don't know. It sounded ugly to me."
"Ugly? Or embarrassing? Perhaps they were not dignified enough for your Reform-minded congregation."
Jeffrey looked annoyed. "I don't think it's that, Uncle. It's just that it didn't sound good."
"It does if you're there to listen."
"Yet, you refused to join them."
Jeffrey shrugged again, this time as much in confusion as in annoyance. "Well, I just thought it would sound better. Would sound good." He remembered his manners. "Thank you for taking me there, Uncle."
Stein smiled. "I am delighted to have done so, Jeffrey. I was as interested in the concept as you were. And less offended by the actual practice."
"I wasn't offended. It was ugly."
"So you say. Would you like a refreshment?"
"Sure. Can we go to the river again? And see those barges?"
The two of them slowly made their way back to the Seine, talking of beauty and prayer, barges and tugboats.
MICHAEL HAD RECOVERED SUFFICIENTLY TO RETURN TO Connecticut. Jeffrey's parents made reservations to leave in two days, inviting Stein to visit them in Connecticut.
Stein considered that possibility while strolling the streets of Tours. He was suffering increasing pain, mostly at night. He concluded that it was time to part with Jeffrey before the boy noticed his declining health. Stein made his own preparations to immediately return to California.
Jeffrey was shocked that Stein was not planning to stay with him in Connecticut. Stein told the boy that an emergency with a patient did not allow him to tarry longer. Disappointed, Jeffrey sulked for a few hours until Stein asked him to dinner, alone, at a good outdoor restaurant at Chinon, just beneath the lovely castle.
They sat in the warm night air in the large patio, candles flickering on the white tablecloths, the spotlighted castle towering over them on the mountain. From here the castle seemed unreal, a fantasy beyond reach. Stein had eaten in the restaurant before and the proprietor made special arrangements for an elaborate meal. During dinner the boy chattered excitedly about the coming school year, about his father's return home, about next summer when he assumed he would visit Stein and Mrs. Santelli in California.
It was while they were waiting for dessert that Jeffrey looked up at the castle and softly said, "It wasn't your parents who died with the Nazis. You got them out. Daddy told me that. You went back for them. Daddy says you were very brave."
"No. It was not my parents who died."
Jeffrey looked at Stein but did not ask. Stein said, "I guess you could call her my fiancé. My girlfriend."
Jeffrey looked at the napoleon the waiter had brought him. He made no move to eat it. "What was her name?"
"Elva. Elva Shirer."
"She was German?"
"German. And Jewish. Half-Jewish, actually. But half-Jewish was enough to be considered an enemy of the state."
Jeffrey played with his napoleon, not daring to look at his uncle. "You...loved her a lot?"
"Mom says that's why you never married."
Stein felt a twinge of annoyance. "Well, if you've already discussed it with your mother, why ask me?"
Embarrassed, the boy shrugged.
Stein grunted, "Your mother is a romantic."
Jeffrey continued looking at his dessert. "Then...why aren't you married?"
Stein looked at the castle far above him. "It never seemed right, Jeffrey. Or possible for me. Once...a long time ago...it almost happened. But even then, I couldn't do it. I don't know why. Not really.
"I'd like to blame the Nazis. Why not? They're a convenient scapegoat. But...I'm not sure it has anything to do with them, really. I don't think my enemies made me like this. Perhaps my friends. Or those I thought of as friends. Or maybe the world, itself. The world which I once thought of as friendly. But that sounds too grand, too philosophical. The truth is...I don't know. Does it matter?"
Jeffrey looked up then. "You never wanted any kids?"
"No. Not really. You're the first...kid...that I've... liked." Stein hesitated, then blurted, "that I loved. But I do not believe that you are...typical."
Jeffrey blushed and began mashing his dessert. Stein studied him, then said, "I will miss you a great deal, Jeffrey. A great deal. I am delighted to have known you."
Jeffrey looked at him with large eyes. "But well see each other next summer. Won't we?"
Stein studied his plate. "That is certainly the plan. But I am an old man. One never knows."
Stein felt the boy's eyes on him and was careful not to look up. When Jeffrey next spoke his voice was very soft. "Are you sick, uncle?"
Stein looked up then. "Why do you ask?"
"You get up so often in the night. And sometimes...I hear you moan."
Stein wondered if he would lie. He had always made it a point to be entirely truthful, never to use white lies. He had always said that a lie is a lie, regardless of alleged color.
He watched himself, curious. To his surprise, he heard himself say, "All old men get up in the middle of the night. We need less sleep than you young people. I'm not sick... I'm old."
Jeffrey smiled in relief. "But you're not too old. Next summer will you let me help you on one of your books? I mean, maybe I could help you check for spelling errors."
Stein bit his lip, then smiled. "Yes. I would like that. And well put your name on the flyleaf. As an assistant editor."
Jeffrey smiled in delight, eating his dessert, glowing with happiness.
"Yes," Stein thought, "yes, this is the best way. This lie is the right way. This happiness is worth it."
A great load had been lifted. And suddenly he was happy...almost joyful. He would not have to tell Jeffrey, would not have to see that young face crumple. They would part thinking of their next meeting, making their future plans. That is how Jeffrey must remember him, planning for their future time together, planning to write their book together.
SARAH STRAUSS HAD LEARNED IN HER SECOND YEAR in the home how to make the days slide by. Shortly after breakfast she would decide which daydream she would use. Then, planted before her lovely view, slowly knitting, warm and comfortable, she would carefully recreate in her mind every detail of the opening scene. If she was to dream of a family holiday dinner, she would recreate the precise menu in her mind, recall the type of embroidery on the napkins, the silverware used, the smells emanating from the kitchen. Once established, her mind would then play out the scene without further prompting, a detailed, lovely, perfect, waking dream whose content was already precisely chosen.
Often it would be mid-afternoon before the dream finally concluded. Those were her best days. She called them her days of internal soap operas. She liked her dreams much better than the actual soaps. Even if they told the same story again and again.
Family holidays before she went to graduate school were a favorite, especially a trip to Yosemite with her parents when she was sixteen. She had been pretty then, constantly pursued by the boys at the lodge, to the amusement and delight of her parents. The dance at the lodge that Saturday night had seen her besieged by anxious, handsome suitors, the other girls looking on with ill-concealed dislike.
Her scholastic achievement award at her high school graduation was another lovingly recreated memory. As were her first six months of love with Stein. Before he had realized that she was thinking of forever.
After a year or so of practice, she was able to engage in conversation with the creatures of these daydreams, chat with them about coming events, events which she, as the creator, could predict with unerring accuracy. Lately she had been even toying with changing the course of the daydreams giving them better, more joyful conclusions.
Somehow she felt this was unfair, perhaps dangerous. Yet it was hard to resist, hard to control. She loved the people in the dreams so much. She wanted to improve their futures, wanted to give them the gift of fulfillment rather than prophecy. She wondered if this was the beginning of insanity. Yet it seemed harmless enough. And they would like their futures so much better.
She was dreaming of the delight of her first publication, the incredible thrill of seeing the volume with her name on the spine, when she heard someone clearing his throat near the door to her room. Slowly, with effort, she brought her mind back to the present and turned her head to see Stein.
Her first thought was that his eyes must have failed, for his glasses were very thick. Then her mind seemed to bog down, seemed to stop altogether, for no other thought came at all. She sat there, needles in her hands, and stared.
He nodded slightly and walked into the room. He glanced at her window, then grunted and sat on the bed. He slowly looked about the room, then let his eyes rest upon her.
She licked her lips. "Gerald."
"Of all the atrocious pieces of furniture cluttering your home, the armoire was the worst. Yet you chose that to adorn your room here. Why?"
She smiled. "Because you hated it, of course."
To her surprise, he threw back his head and laughed. "Excellent, Sarah. Excellent. Touché'." He smiled at her fondly.
She looked down at her knitting, blushing despite herself. Then she looked up, suddenly serious. "You are dying, Gerald. Your nice young man tried to evade it, but I could tell. Is that why you have come?"
"Perhaps indirectly. I came because I wished to see you. Perhaps I wish to see you because I am dying. I do not know. I also hated that end table with the claw feet. I am surprised you did not also bring that."
She smiled mischievously. "It is in the storage room downstairs. I kept it here for several years, but when you didn't come, I decided I needed the room."
He stood and walked to the window. She gazed at him but said nothing. He turned and faced her. "I feel that I should apologize to you, Sarah, but I do not know for what. Have I sinned against you in some way?"
She continued gazing at him, not answering. He turned to the window again. "I feel entirely...justified in not electing to marry. To remain alone. And I do not feel responsible for the accident. Yet I feel...that I have wronged you in some manner." He turned to her. "Have I?"
"Nonsense. I made no commitment to marry you."
"You do not understand. I do not blame you for not choosing me as your potential wife or retaining me as your lover. That was your...prerogative." She tightened her lips. "Though it was based on fear, not on choice of a better alternative."
He opened his mouth to protest but she waved her hand at him. "No, let me finish. I blame you for abandoning me as your friend. I was your friend, Gerald. I was. I needed your...your mind. Your companionship. Even if you did not love me or want me for your wife."
"It is difficult to alter the basis of a relationship so drastically..."
"Nonsense. We were friends as well as lovers. Think back. You abandoned me through guilt. You say you felt no responsibility towards me. I don't believe that. I think your sense of responsibility is what destroyed our friendship. Responsibility led to guilt and that led to your silly flight...your abandonment."
She stared out the window now, eyes hard. "Damn your sense of responsibility. I ended up with your financial support but I lost my best friend." She closed her eyes.
Stein mulled that over. "I do not know if you are correct. I do...regret the loss of your friendship. As we talk now, I realize how much your conversation is of interest to me. Your mind. It is unfortunate that I lost that through the exigencies of sexual conflict."
She rolled her eyes. "I can always tell when you feel cornered, Gerald. Your vocabulary becomes pompous and your thinking obtuse." He flushed. Ignoring his reaction, she continued, "There was no sexual conflict. You were afraid of commitment. Like a twenty-year-old boy running from a girl who wishes to marry. That's all. And, in your immaturity, you lost a great friend." She began to knit again. "No great tragedy, I admit. But...sad. Sad for me. I missed you a great deal."
Stein's voice was soft. "I did not miss you...until now. Now I understand a little of what I did miss." She smiled but did not look up from the knitting.
Several minutes passed in silence. She was the first to break it. "So, now you are tying up loose ends, Gerald? Rectifying old errors? Paving your way into...what? You certainly do not believe in heaven. What are you doing here?"
Stein gazed at her. "Enjoying your company, Sarah. If you are asking why I initially chose to come, I can easily answer that. I do not know."
She glanced at him quickly, then back at her knitting, a small smile on her face. Her voice was very low when next she spoke, "How nice to hear you say that, Gerald. How nice. I can't tell you how often I wished you to say that before. When we were lovers."
"It is harder to confess ignorance when you are lovers."
She nodded. "Very true. But then, everything is harder when you are lovers. Such fuss and bother, really." She grinned. "Those hormones certainly get in the way, don't they?" She didn't look at him, keeping her eyes on her knitting while she smiled a mischievous smile.
He also smiled, studying his hands. "Are we old and wise now, Sarah? Is that why I now enjoy this conversation so? Or are we simply tired and spent so that very little satisfies us?"
Then she looked him full in the face. "Very little? Really, Gerald, you are such an ass, sometimes." She knitted faster. "And my work on the Venetian ghetto was truly excellent. You never really admitted that, you know."
He stood straighter "Nor will I now. Admittedly it had a good chapter on financial arrangements. But your chapter on interracial marriage was poppycock."
"And still is. Still...there have been few works on that general topic which treat it so completely. I will grant you that."
"If what you are saying is that my work is the best on the topic, then I thank you. That is what you are saying, isn't it?"
"In a sparse field, you are the best."
She made her eyes large, looking at the ceiling. "Well, thank you. That was an easy compliment to get."
"I notice you were not reticent about trying."
"Nor should I be since it is the first compliment from you I have received for thirty years." She laughed, eyes sparkling. He leaned over and patted her hand, then straightened.
"I will return, Sarah."
"Before you commit suicide?"
He paled. "Am I so predictable?"
She leaned back and studied his face. "To me, darling Gerald. Even your flight was predictable, but I was too young, too scared to do more than predict. But..." She smiled again. "I did predict you would come back to me. Someday. And now you have."
IT WAS HENDRIX WHO CALLED PHELPS TO TELL HIM that Stein wished to postpone the appointment at Phelps' office from Tuesday to Thursday. Hendrix said it calmly, his voice without emotion. Phelps leaned far back in his chair, closing his eyes.
"You've told him we have an offer?"
"Yes. But he still wishes a slight postponement. He said you would understand, and also apologizes for not making this call himself."
"I see." Phelps leafed through his calendar book, writing in the Thursday meeting. Then he thumbed through his book ahead another two months. He found the date he was looking for, about fifty days distant. That was the date Stein had originally predicted he would suffer significant pains. The end was coming much sooner than Stein predicted.
Phelps realized that he still had Hendrix on the phone. "I'm sorry, Mr. Hendrix. I was just checking something."
"Yes, I know, Mr. Phelps. Is ten o'clock still an acceptable time?"
"Yes. Only, I'll come there."
Phelps half expected a protest. Instead, Hendrix replied, "I think that's a good idea."
It was that response which hit Phelps hardest, which made him realize the seriousness of Stein's health. He swallowed.
"Very well. See you Thursday."
Phelps slowly hung up and rested his head on his hands. He had talked to Stein a few times on the phone since he had returned from Europe but the old man had seemed unchanged. Now this. He studied the wall across the office for a moment, then spontaneously lifted the telephone receiver. Colbum was in and sounded rushed.
"Just caught me on the way to court, Phelps. Have an answer on our offer?"
"I'm recommending against your offer, Colburn. And my client will follow my advice here. But I'd still like to make some progress. How does this sound? Fifty thousand to the estate. To pay for the fees. A new procedure manual, prepared with our review, concerning termination of employment of attorneys and how it is to be conducted. Three hundred thousand into a foundation for care of the elderly. You take the tax deduction. A written apology to Prestman's heirs. Not admitting fault, but expressing profound regret and itemizing his past service to the firm. And last..."
"Jesus, there's more?"
"Look, you've accepted almost all of this already."
"It was one hundred thousand to the foundation. And thirty thousand to the estate."
"That was a lot of fees ago. Hell, just tell Springer to declare himself another bonus like before."
"Funny, Phelps, very funny. So, what's last?"
"One person on the management committee is a retired lawyer from the firm's past. At all times. With veto power over a public discussion of retirement or case assignment."
Colbum thought for a while. "Well, there's Greystone. They might not object to him."
"Not just for now. Permanent member."
"I understood, Phelps. Just thinking. Your numbers are way off."
"Bullshit. You know I'm being reasonable."
"Right. Three hundred thousand is a lot of money."
"We'll give them five years to fund it completely. That's only sixty thousand a year. About half of what you're charging them."
"Well, I'll run it by them."
"I'm seeing my client Thursday. Call me before then."
"I'll try." He hung up.
Phelps leaned back in the seat. He didn't have to settle this before Stein died. Indeed, with the trust, there was no hurry to settle at all. Still, he wanted this, wanted to make it a gift to Stein. His parting gift. He wanted Stein to know what the case had accomplished. What Phelps had accomplished.
Colburn had countered with two hundred thousand into the foundation but accepted the rest of the offer by the time Phelps followed Hendrix up the stairs to Stein's office on Thursday. Phelps felt that they could settle for two hundred and fifty thousand in the foundation if Stein gave his consent. Pretty good.
Unconsciously Phelps had expected Stein to be altered, emaciated, barely able to sit up. He was pleasantly surprised to come into the office and find Stein standing by his huge globe, slightly bent over as he examined it, twirling it slowly. Stein was in his usual, wrinkled, three-piece suit and appeared as rotund as ever.
Phelps smiled in relief. "Doctor. You look fine."
Stein straightened. "Thank you. I feel fine. Are you aware that although this globe is only twelve years old there are fourteen new nations created since its construction? Fifteen if you consider North and South Vietnam as two nations."
"They ought to sell updated skins for globes."
Stein smiled. "As for people. Please sit down, Counselor, and tell me of the offer you have pummeled from the opposition."
Phelps explained the offer while Stein slowly walked to his desk, sat with his hands clasped over his stomach and stared out the French doors which were wide open in the late summer morning sun.
When Phelps had finished, Stein remained staring out the doors. Phelps watched him ruminate. Finally he turned his face to Phelps. "Satisfactory. Settle."
"Don't you want a counter of two hundred and fifty thousand? I think we can get it."
"No. It is not a significant difference and the foundation itself is the goal. Let us not demean the litigation by dickering."
Phelps sat up. "Demean the litigation? You must be joking. The whole process is demeaning. We only have the offer because of Springer's desire to save his skin. The process is not justice, Doctor, but power. How do you demean a process of power politics and brokering?"
Stein gazed at Phelps for a brief moment, a small smile on his face. "You confuse the process with the motivation, Counselor. Our motive was justice and revenge. To achieve same we utilized an increase of bargaining power via the crude but effective tools of litigation. Now that our power has risen to the point that our demands are taken seriously, the parties may once again consider what they should have considered previously: what justice would require. These negotiations concern justice and fairness, do they not?"
"Not between Colburn and myself. We only speak of who would win what, who got the latest dope on who."
"Yet, each of you then returns to the respective client and the discussion does not center only on power but on right and wrong, correct?"
"Seldom. A few times."
Stein leaned forward on the desk, taking Phelps' wrist in his own cold hand. "Mr. Phelps, let us make this one of those times. Their offer is fair. Let us accept it. We will be one of the exceptions to your rule of power brokering. We will not use all our available power but will opt for justice. Will that not be enjoyable for you? Will that not refresh you?" He looked out the doors again. "And to settle a case on principles of justice rather than power ...that would be a truly fitting monument to my friend. He would...appreciate that."
There was a pause. Phelps was strangely moved, more than he would have expected. "Very well. I'll accept. The case is over." Somehow Phelps felt that more than the case was over. This felt like a leavetaking.
Stein moved his eyes back to Phelps. "You did very well, Mr. Phelps. My compliments."
Phelps had trouble speaking. "Thank you. We're pleased. It went better than we..." his voice trailed off.
Several moments of silence. Then Stein abruptly said, "Will you walk in the garden with me, Counselor?"
"You're up to it?"
The old man rose and, arm in arm, they made their way down the long corridor, down the stairs, and into the sunlit garden. Neither spoke as they slowly strolled the paths, past the fishpond, towards the young redwoods. Occasionally Stein would stop, breathing heavily, but after a minute or two, they would continue on their silent stroll.
Only when they reached the shadowed stillness of the redwoods did Stein speak. Looking up through the shafts of sunlight breaking through the trees, hand resting on Phelps' shoulder, he said, "You are the trustee for Mrs. Strauss' trust. If she wishes access to my library...or funds to begin publishing again, please make them available. It is a great waste to have her mind inactive."
Phelps glanced at him. "You've seen her?"
"Several times. A delightful mind. I now recall why I was in love with her. Observe that sapling."
Phelps noted the young redwood, about fifteen feet high, growing at a forty degree angle seeking the sun blocked by the taller redwoods about it. "Yes?"
"It will succeed. It will find the sun. And will ultimately provide the shade which its offspring will seek to evade. And so on, ad infinitum." He smiled at Phelps, patted him on the shoulder and said, "I am tired. Let us return."
Phelps escorted him back to his office. He could feel Stein shaking slightly as he held his arm. "Mr. Phelps, would you please move that chair out on the balcony? I will sit there and read today."
"Of course. Perhaps you should take off your coat and vest."
"No. I become cold easily. Besides..." he gave Phelps a smile. "...I intend to leave this world with all flags flying. Three-piece suit, numerous degrees, and a globe and library nearby."
He sat down carefully, a volume of Tolstoy in his lap. He opened it, seeming to forget that Phelps was present. Phelps stood for a moment looking at the old man. "I'll have the settlement papers to you...in about three days."
Stein did not look up. "Three days. Satisfactory." He looked up then, the sunlight making his eyes squint. "And Mr. Phelps...I thank you. It has been...a great pleasure." He smiled at Phelps for a long moment, then returned to his book.Phelps swallowed, nodded to the old man who was now reading, and left the balcony.
STEIN DECIDED TO MAKE ALL THE ARRANGEMENTS before going to the sea. The critical bottle of pills was placed on the writing table near the globe, the various instructions in carefully labeled envelops arranged neatly on his desk, all volumes back on their shelves. He examined the room. He was satisfied.
He glanced at the clock near the desk. Three o'clock. Hendrix would be resting in his room before the late afternoon exercise session with the patients.
Stein slowly made his way up the stairs to Hendrix's room on the top floor. He did not want his body discovered in the morning by any random patient or stranger.
Hendrix responded to the knock promptly. His shirt was off in the heat of midday, a magazine held in his left hand. A Vivaldi concerto played softly on his stereo.
"Doctor. Come in."
"Thank you, Mr. Hendrix. The concerto for two flutes?"
"Yes. Will that chair be all right?"
"Of course. I am sorry to disturb your afternoon rest. I cannot recall the last time I visited your room."
"Three years ago. When the pipe in the bathroom broke."
"Yes. Now I recall."
He sat on the chair slowly, looking about. "A good room, Mr. Hendrix. Books, records, and Renoir. What more could a man want?"
Hendrix grinned. "Some men would want a lot more, Doctor. But for me...it's just fine." He sat on the bed, waiting.
Stein brought his eyes back to Hendrix. "Tomorrow morning I would like you to wake me quite early. Six in the morning."
Hendrix said nothing for a few moments, eyes locked on the doctor. Then, softly, "Very well, Doctor."
Stein studied Hendrix. "How little I really know you, Mr. Hendrix. How long have we worked together?"
"Twenty-nine years, Doctor."
"Yes." He thought for a few moments. "But your... privacy is something you value. Not to be discarded lightly. I am correct in that evaluation, am I not?"
Hendrix smiled. "Yes, Doctor. You are correct."
Stein rose. "Very well, then. I did not err."
Hendrix rose also, helping Stein to his feet. "No, Doctor. I have always enjoyed...working here. Living here."
"Good. Very good."
The doctor nodded to him and slowly left the room, not looking back. Hendrix softly closed the door, lay on the bed, and stared at the ceiling, the magazine forgotten on the desk.
GETTING DOWN THE SMALL SLOPE TO THE BEACH WAS much more difficult than Stein had predicted. It took over half an hour and the sun was only a little above the horizon by the time he finally sat on a small rock just beyond the waterline.
He panted, watching the sun slide behind a low cloud which suddenly glowed with powerful light from behind. The wind was soft here, the tide out. On this weekday evening the beach was deserted, Stein's car the only one in the parking lot.
Near the horizon, maybe fifteen miles offshore, the usual summer fog was gathering, a distant wall of thick white mist. High overhead a few cumulus clouds preceded the fog, occasionally blocking the sun. The only sound was soft surf, slight rustle of the dry grass on the dunes.
Stein sat on the rock, regaining his breath, his hand automatically caressing his side where the pains were now almost constant. The wind felt very good. Warm now, soon to be moist and cold as the fog crept onto the land. But that would not be for hours. For now he had the sun and the warm wind.
He began to hum, going over the various preparations he had made. He wanted to be able to arrive home and immediately take the pills, not have to engage in any further preparations, any further trivialities. He could think of nothing left undone. He continued humming.
When his mother had died of cancer, she had been forced to spend months in the hospital while they tried to stem the deadly growth by burning her with radiation, by poisoning her with chemicals. Finally, after four or five months, she had rejected further treatment, and settled back to die. Her end had come relatively quickly, less than two months later. She had never left the hospital.
About a week before her death he had visited her and noted a new expression on her face. She had seemed almost happy. He sat beside her bed.
His father had just left the room to argue with the head nurse. That was almost all his father did nowadays, argue and complain to the nurses, to the therapists, venting his fury, his frustration on all but his wife. With her he maintained a dignified respect, a tender regard and sorrow. Then he would leave the room and scream at the hospital personnel. Stein's mother would smile and wink at Stein when this occurred.
That day, so near the end, she had gazed at Stein and said something to him that he never forgot. "This death business, Gerald. It's not so bad. Not when...you finally relax. Not so bad at all." And she had smiled and patted his hand.
Sitting on the rock, he smiled as he remembered. Not bad at all. And you only have to do it once. He chuckled. Then he slowly rose to his feet. The sun emerged from the cloud, blinding him for a moment until his eyes adjusted. He stretched his back and walked towards the water.
The sky was changing now, taking on the colors of the sunset, yellows and reds replacing the daytime's blue and white. He began to hum again, walking along the beach.
Then, on impulse, smiling, he began to sing, a song that he had learned in temple in Germany seventy years before. He closed his eyes, remembering the words, feeling them come back to him. Holding his arms out to the sides, he slowly began to twirl, feet moving faster, dancing now, singing full voiced, singing and praying in the sunset before the endless, trackless sea. An old man alone and dancing in the warm wind of sunset.